Giant Killing

Giant Killing is an ongoing Japanese sports manga written by Masaya Tsunamoto that began in April 2007 currently on its 14th volume. Three years later, on April 2010, the series was adapted to a 26-episode anime by Studio DEEN. In the same year, it also won the Kodansha Manga Award for best general manga.

Japanese professional football league, East Tokyo United (ETU), is on a slump. Team moral is down, and even fan support is at an all time low. Everything is rolling downhill until a new coach and former teammate, Takeshi Tatsumi, is hired. There is a lot of bad blood in this new/old relationship in a league that is primarily family-owned.

This looks like a very promising series, very similar to Rookies. While Rookies is about high school baseball played by ruffians who are looked down upon by society, Giant Killing is about professional soccer players who have lost their love of the game. It is no coincidence that it coincides with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa either. It seems all the underdogs of the world are overtaking the “superpowers” of football.

There is an opening and ending theme:

1. “My Story ~Mada Minu Ashita e~” (My story ~まだ見ぬ明日へ~) by THE CHERRY COKES
2. “Get tough!” by G.P.S

APRILMAYJUNE • JULYAUGUSTSEPTEMBER

APRIL 2010

Sunday April 4, 2010, Episode 1:

Three years ago, Tatsumi left for England at the peak of his game. A former East Tokyo United (ETU) and Japan’s national football team member, Tatsumi transferred to a foreign club after his success with ETU. After retiring from pro football, he took up coaching of the FC Eastham team. The team was the underdogs, but he brought them up from the bottom to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Even with the negative press, bad moral in the league, and even worse, only 8000 registered fans remaining, Tatsumi is confident that he can bring this Japanese league back from the brink of death. ETU has lost five matches in a row and is hovering at the bottom of its division. Profits are at an all time low and they have even lost their main sponsor.

On the first day of introduction to the board members, Tatsumi takes the pulse of the youngsters playing at ETU’s field. A boy sums it all up calling the team a “Scoreless, defenseless and winless” league.

Back in the boardroom, the members argue amongst themselves why Tatsumi should never be allowed back on ETU’s field. Gotou, ETU’s 39-year-old GM and Tatsumi’s ex-teammate, together with the Chairman’s daughter, Nagata Yuri, were the ones who went to England searching for him to convince him to coach ETU. Meanwhile, Tatsumi makes an untraditional entrance through the window to greet the rug-wearing Vice-Chair and his brother, Chairman Nagata. From now on, he will take up residence in the club house as the league’s manager. As manager, he is the king.

Elsewhere on the streets, news spread like wild fire that Tatsumi is back and he’s back as the new coach of ETU! The first reaction is jubilation followed by doubt. Then there are the fans…

The first night, 35-year-old Tatsumi burns the midnight oil watching previous games of the boys to gauge the team standing. Of course he oversleeps the next morning. Yuri, the PR Manager of ETU, wakes him up while he orders breakfast from her, and proceeds to give her a note with the day’s training for the players. “Make them do this.”

During practice, rabid fans stand behind the fenced-in field and scream for the dismissal of Tatsumi the traitor. “He abandoned ETU for a foreign team.” “We trust only Murakoshi!”

Murakoshi Shigeyuki is ETU’s 32-year-old “star” player, also known as Mr. ETU. He plays defensive Midfield with the #6 Jersey. However, he has grown complacent, even though he has no opinion of the hiring of Tatsumi as long as the league is brought to its former glory again.

On the field, Assistant Coach Matsubara aka Macchan makes the players run a 3o-meter dash, timing each pair as they make their run. Newbie Tsubaki Daisuke is matched up against Murakoshi and he out runs him. After the entire team has made their run, they think that they are finish. But the Coach makes them run again. They groan and ask him how long it will take? “You will stop only when I say so.”

Finally, Tatsumi appears on the field. He takes the results of the runs and begins calling out names. He ends up calling the names of the bench players and leaving all the starters on the other side. He then announces, “This will be my starting line up,” and points to the younger players who had obviously more life left, and put in more effort into a simple exercise. Just as people around them begin to protest, Tatsumi gives in.

He proposes a match in 15 minutes. Macchan gets the old team and he will instruct the new team.

April 11, 2010, Episode 2:
The game is on! As the starters begin to protest, Tatsumi relents. “If you win this game, I will reconsider.”

Macchan encourages the starters turned substitutes, consoling them that this maybe Tatsumi’s way of riling up the team spirit.

The once-substitutes who are now starters need their own convincing too. Instead of raising their spirits, Tatsumi agrees that they are weaklings who are not fit to be even called pros. However, this will be their first step towards a giant killing. A giant kill is a major upset by an underdog team pitched against a higher division team.

So the game begins. Murakoshi accepts the challenge head on. The football is dribbled and then passed towards the goal, but the chance slips by the newbies. Murakoshi ponders this tactic. Is it because they don’t have the guts to do it? But they are they one with the fast legs. What has Tatsumi planned?

The newbies execute a one-touch play, passing off the ball without controlling it, flawlessly. For ETU’s sake, the newbies are following the orders and plan of their coach. Slowly the veteran players fall into the pace of the novices. As they run to keep up with them, they are being worn down quickly. Soon enough, Murakoshi figures out Tatsumi’s plan.

Tatsumi explains the reason for his preliminary trials of the run. Yes, it was to test the speed of the players, but it was also a gauge of their stamina. He took only two scores into consideration during the run. The first and the last.

Finally, Tatsumi lifts the one-touch play as the kids go all out against their “elders.” Tsubaki dribbles the ball pass Murokoshi, as he struggles to keep up. Tsubaki passes to his team-mate, who kicks with all his might – GOAL! The young team rejoices their small victory, while the veterans hang their heads in shame and disbelief.

Tsubaki Daisuke is a 20-year-old midfielder, who wears the #7 jersey.

A media conference is held thereafter, where the obvious questions are thrown to the new coach. Is there going to be a change of players?

“I wonder.”

Will Mr. ETU be relegated as a reserve?

“I don’t know… but, Murakoshi…(will step down as captain of the team).”

Bad enough, the veterans just lost to a bunch of newbies. Now, Murakoshi gets demoted through a press conference. He stands up for himself with Tatsumi. He gave 10 years to this team and fought to rebuilt this team himself. He sacrificed everything just to push this team up.  He alone carried the burden.

Tatsumi replies. Murakoshi will not bear the weight of the team anymore. As the coach, Tatsumi will worry about the team’s balance and power from now on. That is what he was brought back for.

With that, the team is off to their first day of training camp. Right away, the veterans Kuroda and Suige show their disdain towards their new coach. But Tatsumi already has training all planned out for them, “self-training!” They themselves have to come up with what needs polishing. And as a reminder, Murakoshi is no longer the captain, which means he won’t be ordering the training.

April 18, 2010, Episode 3:

Tatsumi’s strategy for ETU is slowly unfolding. First the players need to figure out for themselves what they need without their captain / usual lead. Next, a new leader will slowly emerge. With everyone at a lost, finally, Dori, the goalkeeper tells the keepers to begin their practice. Kuroda and Suige tell everyone to practice their passing. As the veterans practice their passings in threes, the newbies practice as a team. Kuroda, seeing this, starts a fight with Akasaki and Tsubaki. At this point, Tatsumi and Macchan who are watching from afar, go in to stir up the pot even more. They retrieve all the balls except for one. Now, they would have to share, or is it a rematch of the last game? As Akasaki becomes over-confident of their last win, and welcomes the challenge, a storm begins to brew with the veterans and the newbies.

In walks the late comer to training camp, Prince, and just like that, the brouhaha stops in its tracks. Tatsumi notices this phenomenon too. This half-Japanese, half-Italian midfielder is Luigi Yoshida, or Gino and wears the #10 jersey. However, this 26-year-old rather likes to refer to himself as the Prince (for his selfish monopolization of games and his narcissistic and devil-may-care attitude even during a bind).

That night, Gotou worries about their pre-season meet with the Tokyo Victory the following week. Tatsumi shrugs and replies, that if they are building a house, they better be building one with a strong base so that when the next wolf comes around to blow at it, it will not crumble and fall.

The next day at training camp, Prince finally joins the team for training. Tatsumi immediately pulls him off his high horse, telling him that until he earns his stripes, the #10 position will be taken away from him. Right away, Prince gets a three-on-three match going. He chooses his players: Tsubaki, Akasaki and him. While on the other team, Murakoshi, Kuroda and Suige will lead. Confused by Prince’s choice of the newbies, Macchan questions Tatsumi. He reasons, if Prince wins, he can boast of his triumph with the greenhorns. If he looses, he can also blame them for his loss.

As Tatsumi watches the game, he realizes that the Italian brat has talent as a midfielder. He skillfully passes all the balls to Tsubaki where ever he ends up. Running around in circles, as ordered by Prince, Tsubaki still manages to contribute to the game and finally passes Akasaki a winning shot. GOAL! That’s the second lost for the veterans.

Finally, the day of reckoning with Tokyo Victory on ETU’s home-ground at Sumidagawa Stadium arrives. The team – veterans and newbie – has never played together as one. At this point, they have only played against each other. But Tatsumi promises, if they follow his scrimmage game plan, at the very least, they will draw with the visiting team. With #10 Prince as the captain, and #7 Tsubaki as the rookie the game is about to begin. As the players enter the crowd-filled stadium (overpowered and filled by the screaming fans of the opposing team), both the team managers finally meet. Hiraizumi of Tokyo Victory meets Tatsumi of ETU.

April 25, 2010, Episode 4:

The next 90 minutes will be ETU’s battlefield and Tatsumi to see what this team can do. The captain of the opposing team and supposed national team player of Japan is Mochida. ETU’s newly crowned captain, Gino, is marked by Mikumo a young player of the opposing team with everything to prove. As Gino teases him, and tells him not to let him out of his sight, he dribbles the ball closer to the goal. The coaches wonder if Gino will be able to overcome his own ego, as he unselfishly gives up his play when two defenders corner him. Gino kicks the ball backwards, and Tsubaki, rushes in all the way from center field only to overtake a surprised Mochida to reach the ball. Tsubaki dribbles the ball into the box and passes it to Akasaki. He kicks, but shoots wide off the post.

The crowd comes alive. ETU, the underdog, almost made a goal against a fierce and ranking opponent. Gino takes the opportunity to introduce the tagging Mikumo to his pet dog, Bakki (#7 Tsubaki).

On the last night of training camp, Tatsumi finds Tsubaki alone in the field, training. Tatsumi decides to challenge Tsubaki, with him defending/guarding the goal post. Tsubaki concentrates so hard, that he misses his first kick way and it is way off. The second shot, a half-hearted kick  becomes a cheap goal. The third shot hits the post. Seeing this, Tatsumi tells him that they are done for the night. Maybe he can’t perform under pressure. Tsubaki is a “chicken of epic proportions.” After speaking to his coaches from middle and high school, they all have the same thing to say about Tsubaki. He fails nine out of ten times. But on the tenth try, he will amaze and captivate you. Even though Tsubaki hates himself for his lack of confidence, he tries to change for the better. Tatsumi tells him, he can mess up as many times as he wants to as long as he puts his best foot forward and bring out the Giant Killing in himself one day.

 

Mochida

Mochida

 

Mochida, impressed with Tsubaki, asks him his age. After replying, Mochida replies by telling him to keep his eyes open to the cruel world. With that note of advice, he tries to slow him down with a kick on the legs, but Tsubaki soon overtakes him again. Meanwhile, Mikumo who is guarding Gino sees a running Tsubaki realizes that it’s him he needs to stop. Gino passes the ball to Tsubaki and the moment Mikumo falls for the bait, Tsubaki passes the ball back to a nicely positioned and open Gino. GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL!!!! (ala the spanish/italian soccer channels)

Tokyo Victory needs a change of plan. They will put two markers on Gino and get Mikumo’s pride out of the way. In a surprise attack, Mochida pretends to take a fall with Tsubaki close behind him. Even though he was not touched, Tsubaki get a yellow card. Mochida gets a free foul kick and promptly ties the game. 1-1.

MAY 2010

May 2, 2010, Episode 5:

Half time of their first friendly game. Tsubaki apologizes for his foul that cost the team one goal. Tatsumi strolls into the player’s locker room with a new formation, now that the opposing team has seen their trick. The defender will be replaced with Miyano Ishigani, a midfielder, and Gino will be teamed with Akasaki to control the midfield. He warns them not to panic even if the opponent begins to dominate them. As he leaves the locker room, Kuroda cheers on the team to lift their spirits.

The game begins, and Miyano charges with the ball, only to lose the pass when he nears the goal. Not to worry, Murakoshi to the rescue. He retrieves the ball, passes it to Miyano to Zaki and back to the goalkeeper.

Fifteen minutes left to the game, and Tatsumi pulls #20 Sera and Tanba out of the game as they have been running ragged. They need new legs. His goal, from the very start, was to draw. Now with the fresh legs in the game, it is up to the players to fight against a champion league.

Akasaki and Miyano double team, but looses the ball to Shinoshi. Meanwhile Gino, the lazy bum, stands and watch, complaining that he has ran enough for the day. He strolls on the field. Mochida gets the balls and passes through the line of defenders but his ball hits the goal post. Tsubaki is once again reminded by Tatsumi’s word to bring out the Giant Killing spirit in him.

Ten minutes left. The opposing team is controlling the ball. Cheers of their supporters are drowning out ETU’s support. On top of that, Tokyo Victory has experienced international players on their side. All the odds are stacked against ETU. Mochida gets another shot, but kicks in a weak one thinking it will never make it. Tsubaki sees this, and tries to run to the aid of Dori the goalkeeper. Will Dori be able to save it? Both have their eyes trained on the ball. Neither sees each other coming. Wham! The hit each other, and the ball rolls in undefended. ETU 1 – Tokyo Victory 2.

Tsubaki is devastated at the goal he has once again caused his teammates. Dori immediately extends his hand to Tsubaki showing him that it is ok. However, the match maybe over for Tsubaki.

During the final 5 minutes, Tatsumi observes his players and checks to see who has cracked under the pressure. Murakoshi sees that Tsubaki is rendered useless to the team now. He has to step up for the team now. But he is no longer a captain, just a team player. There is a hole in their defense. What to do?! He defends the ball. Stops and looks around. He makes one final pass to Gino, who then passes it back to him, as he gets in position. He shoots. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL! The crowd, paralyzed for a moment, then comes alive.

 

The stunned fans

The stunned fans

 

The game ends in a draw, as expected by Tatsumi.

The next day, Tatsumi meets Murakoshi in an amusement park. Just like the theme park with its multitude of colors, the ETU team too has a myriad of colors. When he first joined the team, all Tatsumi saw was a deluded Mr. ETU, who was just a lump of meat. Useless. He did not need a captain like that. He needs someone who will take a chance, which Murakoshi wouldn’t have, were to wear the captain’s armband then. Instead, he wants Murokoshi to remember that goal that brought about the cheer of the crowd and the joy of his team.

“The team’s color is you.”

Tatsumi throws the captain armband back at Murokoshi. He reminds him to develop as a player and stop carrying the team on his back. That will be his job. Most of all, Murakoshi has to obey all his directives.

“If you want to kill me, wait till I get sacked.

“Don’t ever get sacked,” came the reply.

May 9, 2010, Episode 6:

Tatsumi is forced to attend the League’s Press Conference, where Japan’s  18 professional football teams gather to promote themselves with the media.

Tatsumi meets a few characters there. The first being Fuwa, Nagoya Grand Palace’s manager and an ex-Board of Director of ETU. He tells Tatsumi that the team’s efforts will be futile if the board sucks, implying that Chairman Nagata runs a weak show. Then he meets Osaka Gunners’ manager, a foreigner named Dulfer with his translator Sonoda. Upon making his acquaintance, Dulfer states that Tatsumi will be “one hell of a manager.” Of course Tokyo Victory’s manager, Hiraizumi, is there too.

As Tatsumi takes the stage to introduce his team, he doesn’t deny that ETU is at the bottom of the barrel. This mean that, when they do win, they will embarrass the bigger and higher ranking teams even more. With this lone statement, he gets the rest of the managers’ blood coiling.

As he leaves, he meets an old French man who used to manage a team in England. He realizes that Tatsumi looks vaguely familiar, but can’t put a name to his face. He offers to have fish and chips with Tatsumi, and he readily accepts this opportunity to escape the conference. As they walk around the city, the old man stops and says, “Don’t panic. I think we’re lost.”  Tatsumi gets their sandwiches from a convenient store as they stroll over to a nearby field where children are playing a friendly game of soccer. The French man asks Tatsumi which team he thinks will win. Without hesitating, Tatsumi replies, “The Blue Team.” Even though they are behind the Red Team, they a running more and prove to have more spirit and gumption than the opposing team. The French man agrees and they immediately form a good bond.

Meanwhile, Yuri comes searching for Tatsumi and finds him sitting in the park talking with the old man. Wait a minute! The old man is none other than Japan’s National Team coach – Blanc. Are they old friends? They seem to be very chummy.

The Blue Team wins. But Blanc’s people, who have also been searching for him, suddenly pull up and whisks him away. Yuri too comes to claim her man. Before they part, Blanc promises the next time they meet, they will have Fish and Chips, like the good old times in England.

Back in ETU’s office, Yuri wonders with Gotou if the chance meeting of Blanc and Tatsumi means that ETU players will have a chance at making the National Team. Too much of a leap of imagination.

Meanwhile, United Skulls, ETU’s fan club led by Haneda, creeps into Sumidagawa Stadium to prepare for the next day’s official game (revealing a giant ETU banner was made for them). Ah – the love of supporters, even though they are from the other side of town and are rough around the edges.

 

Banner by United Skulls

Banner by United Skulls

 

The next day, Paoka the mascot of ETU goes out to greet the fans as they prepare for their meet with Javelin Iwata. A new freelance reporter Fujisawa Katsura is assigned to ETU. She hopes and prays that this team will make her career. Tatsumi meets with an overzealous and senile team manager, Kurashi. Tatsumi knows that unlike Tokyo Victory, this opponent is craftier and harder to take down.

The game begins as ETU attacks their opponents. However, an accidental goal, where everyone was caught off guard, leaves ETU a little lost for words.

May 16, 2010, Episode 7:

After the first goal, ETU’s formation went into a jumbled mess. Their psyche were disrupted too early in the game. They lost badly to the Javelins. 0-4.

The cracks on the team are beginning to show. One fluke ball was able to bring the entire team’s spirit down. At the press conference, Fujisawa Katsura questions Tatsumi.

“You said at the earlier Press Conference of the League that you will change Japan’s football. But today, you have betrayed those who believed in you.”

“Are you angry?” he asks. She denies, but soon erupts in anger.

In the end, he assures the media, that they can continue to put their faith in him.

ETU goes in for another game, but looses again. This will be their second lost in a row, without a single goal struck. Team morale is low now. After a tiring game, Kuro tries to raise the team spirit but ends up starting a fight with Akasaki.

After the game, Gotou finds Tatsumi and assures him that he has every faith in Tatsumi leading the team to victory. Tatsumi replies, “I have one question for you.” Dramatic pause.

“How many games can I lose before I get sacked?”

Good question. This is a test for the team. After their big “win”/draw against Tokyo Victory, they think they are invincible. But the team has a lot of weaknesses that even outsiders can see. He has to make each player realize their own faults before they can progress. He needs to sacrifice games for their growth. Telling them would be too easy. They have to experience every lost and defeat to grow strong and finally realize where they can improve. Not only that, Tsubaki has been thrown into every game since the first, even though he has proven to be a non-contributing factor. It doesn’t matter. Because as the rookie of the team, he needs the experience of being out in the field.

The next day, Tatsumi devices a new “game.” Each player will pair with another member that plays the same position as them. Kuroda insists that they do no have time to “play.” They need to train. Murakoshi steps in.

“Are we playing to win?” “Yes.” If so, he will be paired with Tsubaki as they play football tennis. Murakoshi plays along even though he doesn’t know what the coach has up his sleeves, yet. But Tsubaki needs to get out of the rout soon. Maybe a rude awakening like a nice tight slap will do the trick?

 

Tatsumi challenging the players for the line up

Tatsumi challenging the players for the line up…again

 

Kuroda and Suige looses their game: 0-20. And now for the prize of football tennis. The starting positions of the next game. Looks like Kuroda and Suige will be sitting out on the next game.

At the next game, ETU makes up for their earlier lost by scoring one goal but still looses the game when the whistle blows at the final score of 1-2.

Kuroda puts in a transfer to other clubs. Suige approaches Dori the goalkeeper as Murakoshi has been unapproachable lately. Dori then tells Suige to put himself into the other person’s shoes for once.

The next day, Macchan is unable to tell Tatsumi of Kuroda’s transfer request. But Tatsumi, once again, challenges his players for the starting line up of the next game. Tatsumi tells them that the end product is not always everything. Kuroda, having had enough of this, storms off the field.

To which, Tatsumi states, “Those who want, can leave. But if you want to win…”

May 23, 2010, Episode 8:

Dori meets with Suige again. This time, the duo has skip training entirely. Kuro is the kind of player that wants the team to win – badly. He fights with everything. His heart is in the right play. No manager will be able to reject such a combative player. Suige defends Kuro. Dori then interjects with this simple message. While the team is moving forward, the two are lagging behind.

The next game is ETU vs. Shimizu. It is Japan Cup round 1. Kuro and Suige sits out the game as players but watches as fans. Suddenly they realize what Dori and the others have been telling them. The team’s problem is it’s defense line. Kobayashi #26 and Kamei leaves a space in midfield open. They increase their attacking prowess. Gino passes the ball to Tsubaki, who instead of catching it, looses it to the opponent. Gino tells him he has no patience for a dog that has to be spoon fed. Stop spacing out already Tsubaki. You need to get over a pre-season mistake! You can’t make the same mistake twice. Not when you’re in it to win it.

Tatsumi sees this exchange but decides to give Tsubaki his time to find his own answers (sooner than later). The real problem lies with Kobayashi and Kamei. The rebels need to find their own answers too. Tatsumi tells Macchan that their first and only opponent is themselves. Get over that, and they will be able to meet anyone else head on.

Watching from the sidelines, Kuro and Suige realizes that even though Tatsumi had changed the line up of the team, the play remains the same. They were plain lucky when they scored a goal (any goal). Dori has moved further up from the goal post. The younger defenders have given Dori a breathing room. But with them, the defense line is up against the wall. They realize soon enough that if they do not change their attitude and way of thinking, their positions will be taken over by the youngsters.

It’s a penalty kick for the opposing team. It is up to Dori to guard his post, and he saves it. Unfortunately, no one was prepared for the follow-up, least of all Kamei, the rookie. They score a goal. But Kamei is inconsolable. Dori, once again, comes to the rescue. “Forget it! We need to score.” ETU ends up loosing yet another game.

Kuro and Suige end up at a ramen shop. It’s not the food that is memorable (although I doubt anyone can really make bad ramen), but the conversation the shop owner has with one of his customers that kicks some sense into Kuro and Suige. The store owners tells the customer that he has honed his cooking skills for more than 50 years. There have been ups and downs. When he failed, he tried again and again, because there’s always a tomorrow. He cannot be depressed forever.

The next day, Kuro and Suige return to the field of practice, renewed and more willing to play the kind of game Tatsumi wants of his players. Football begins with defense. ETU’s ball starts with its defenders. Without the ball there is no game. Tatsumi is relying on his defenders on his next game.

At the next game, the defense is solid as Kuro and Suige give them all they have. But the fan crowd is dwindling. A corner kick for the opponent scores them a point. Yet another lost.

May 30, 2010, Episode 9:

Are we counting?  If so, since their last meet, this will be ETU’s fourth consecutive lost.

The fans begin to fight amongst themselves. It’s the old versus the younger more fanatic crowd. Soccer is supposed to be fun. Players and fans support each other. Can the older crowd gather their old supporters back again? Meanwhile, the Skulls are gathering after the game for a showdown.

The vice-chairman tells Gotou if they continue to lose their games, not only will Tatsumi be fired, Gotou will be fired too. Chairman Nagata steps in and reminds his brother that he has no power to fire his staff.

The Skulls, yes thick-headed more like it, have cordon off the player’s bus from leaving and wants Tatsumi instead. Murakoshi offers to speak to the fans, but Tatsumi tells him that dealing with the fans is his job. Murakoshi’s is the game. But Gotou comes to the rescue. He tells Tatsumi to return to the bus. It will be his job to convince the fans. Tatsumi’s battle is on the pitch. And Gotou trusts him to fulfill that end of his job.

If we’re counting, this will be their fifth lost, against a not so deadly opponent – FC Sapporo. As the players understand Tatsumi better, the team as a whole becomes a more cohesive unit. Tsubaki begins to wonder if he is the reason for their lost. It seems like he can’t contribute to the games. Since he cannot find the nerve to speak to Tatsumi, he goes to Murakoshi for advice. Murakoshi tells Tsubaki, that just like him, he has his own problems. He can no longer be that captain that once carried the team on his back, but he has to worry about himself as a player. Just as Tatsumi has given Tsubaki this chance to build on a much-needed experience on the field. Worry about yourself first. Build your confidence. Believe in yourself as others have.

Their next game against Nagoya, is their fourth league match, will be coached by Fuwa who looks like he has a rag over his head for hair. Nagoya has the Holy Three from Brazil: Pepe (Pele?), Zelberto and Carlos. They are up against a brick wall.  Or are they?

That night, Tatsumi burns the midnight oil and finally finds Nagoya’s weakness.

The next day, while the Nagoya players are supposed to be out on the field warming up, the Holy Three have gone missing. Turns out, they are outside the stadium eating, buying their own jerseys to send home and having a good time playing the game – as fans gather around to watch their tricks. When they are found, Fuwa immediately rants at them, telling them to concentrate at the task at hand.

 

Fujisawa Katsura - freelance reporter

Fujisawa Katsura - freelance reporter

 

Meanwhile, Fujisawa Katsura is here for this telling game because this will be the start of ETU’s dream. She states this in her article, basing it off on Tatsumi’s facial expression after the last lost game. The team has finally turned around. Maybe? Or is she interested in the coach?

JUNE 2010

June 6, 2010, Episode 10:

Nagoya Grand Palace vs. ETU

Fuwa tries to insult Tatsumi by reminding him of his bold statements at the League’s Press Conference – trashing the higher ranking teams. He has yet to live up to his boasts, and have instead lost 5 games in a row. Don’t worry Mr.-Weird-Hair-Fuwa. Today, you will be crushed to a pulp. Maybe a pulp would be giving Fuwa too much credit.

Up on the fans’ stand, only the old timers have come to cheer ETU on. The Skulls are just mopping after their talk with Gotou. Finally, Haneda pulls them out of their rut, and they too begin to cheer for ETU.

Suige is charged with marking Pepe, one of the three Brazilian players. Kuroda is left with Itagaki, whom he thinks should be marked by Suige, a lesser defender than him. Meanwhile, Itagaki thinks he’s the team’s main man instead of Pepe, the foreigner. He should be marked by Suige instead of the lesser Kuroda.

The in-fighting and mental warfare begin before the game even starts.

#10 Gino and #6 “Koshi” vow to end their losing streak.

The whistle blows! ETU hits the ground running. Zelberto gets the ball and passes to Pepe. #7 Tsubaki tries to intercept it, but in a flash, Pepe out runs him and gets the pass. He is about to make a shot, but the whistle blows. Offside! ETU knows what they are up against. The Brazilians not only have great technique but they have tremendous speed too. In a blink of an eye, Nagoya almost scores. The ball is on the move again. Kiyokawa (blond) of ETU stops a ball from being passed to Nagoya, but they retrieve it promptly. Zelberto is running with the ball again. Murakoshi intercepts and passes it to Gino. Gino to Akasaki, who chases it down, and passes it to Tsubaki. Pepe catches up but pushes Tsubaki without getting a card. He’s got the ball now.

ETU is back to defending. Zelberto has the ball again and sets it up for Pepe. Dori stands guard as Kuro runs in for a block. Itagaki wants a piece of the action too. Pepe shouldn’t be the only one getting the ball. Nagoya’s ace is him – Itagaki, and not Pepe. He doesn’t need a second-rate marker like Kuro on his back. Another attempt on the goal post, but Dori catches the corner kick.

Zelberto is at it again, trying to set things up for Pepe. But ETU’s midfielders are making it hard on him, as they tighten their formation against him.

Meanwhile, Kuro shouldn’t underestimate Itagaki either, and vice versa. Itagaki goes in for the kill, but Kuro saves it.The match up of Kuro and Itagaki is complementary. Itagaki is a right-sided striker, but he is stuck on the left, while Pepe takes the lead. His techniques are failing against Kuro, who is containing him well.

Another attempt is made on the goal, but Dori saves it. A corner kick, Dori saves yet another. All these attacks from Nagoya, but ETU is just defending. When will they go on the offensive? Suddenly, in an attempt to head butt a ball, Sera jumps, but lands clumsily on his back. As he lies writhing on the field, change is in the air.

June 13, 2010, Episode 11:

Fuwa finally pulls Itagaki aside and chastises him. If he is only able to work on the right side of the field, Fuwa shouldn’t have put him in. “If you’re a professional, then live up to it!” Nagoya will be a professional in all aspects: management, coach and players. They each have an obligation to live up to and he (Fuwa) will be on top once again (unlike ETU with their mismanaged team of directors, coach and players).

Tatsumi tells Macchan that even though their team is only saving and defending, at least they are not giving away points. However, losing their forward, Sera, could mess up his well-laid plans just a little.

Itagaki is raring to go after the scolding. He attacks but #6 Murakoshi goes after him together with Kuro. As they enter the box, Pepe goes for the kill, but hits #7 Tsubaki on his back instead (who had been advised by Tatsumi to rush up to the goal every time he sees Pepe attacking). Tsubaki is down but for a minute. His head spins a little, and his ears are ringing from the after effects of being hit so hard. But the ball is safe, even though it could have been an own goal by Tsubaki.

Katsura scans the field and analyzes the game before her: Tanba and Murakoshi are focusing on the job at hand. Tsubaki, on the other hand, seemed different. Maybe there is a plan. And the plan is slowly unfolding before them.

The three Brazilian players try to make it through the other side of the goal, but Kuro is there to defend their post. #22 Ishihama is there to aid and stop their double and triple team attack. The ball is passed to Pepe again, but Tsubaki runs out from nowhere and stops the ball again with his back.

The half time whistle blows. 0-0.

 

Tsubaki at a lost of Pepe compliments him

Tsubaki at a lost after Pepe compliments him

 

Tsubaki finally gets his hearing back and Pepe compliments him for stopping his ball, not once, but twice. Unfortunately for Tsubaki, he can understand neither Pepe or Zelberto. Zelberto vows that Tsubaki will not stop him in the second half.

The players enter their respective locker room. One gets a pep talk while the other gets a scolding. Kuro shares his past experience playing as a rookie against Nagoya’s Domingo, who is no longer there. The player is no longer there, but Itagaki has picked up his style, albeit an inferior style compared to the original. Kuro is positive he can stop him. Tatsumi then waltzes in and shares with them his plan: to play exactly like the first half, take their spirit away. Meanwhile, over at Nagoya, Fuwa scolds his players for their inability to score, even though they have the possession of the ball. Through an interpreter, the foreign players half listens, and half do their own things. Pepe is enjoying is melon bun, while Zelberto tells the group that “those who enjoy the game will surely win.” He talks about attacking effectively, but no one understands him.

Before the second half starts, the small minority of ETU fans cheer on their team. Murakoshi has been watching Pepe for the first half. Suige on Zelberto. They should know where they are attacking from now, and be able to read their moves.

The second half begins. Itagaki gets a chance to score with the aid of another mate. Just as he is about to take the decisive kick, Tsubaki slips in out of no where and blocks the shot.

The field suddenly looks different. Were the earlier two blocks taking its toll on Tsubaki physically? Or is the field becoming smaller for him?

June 20, 2010, Episode 12:

Nagoya pushes forward, attacking relentlessly, but is unable to break down ETU’s defense. Every time Carlos gets the ball, ETU closes in on him, preventing him from playing his usual game. He pushes the game further up field, to shorten the distance of his passes to his Brazilian mates without the risk of interception.

But Tatsumi has already accounted for this by watching Nagoya’s previous games. He warns them ahead of time to watch out for passes to striker Pepe.

The ball is passed to Pepe, but Sera intercepts it. The reds crowd around him to steal the ball, but Tsubaki is there to help out his mate. With Carlos out of his normal position of defense, Tsubaki whizzes pass him scores an unexpected goal. Everyone stares in disbelief. Itagaki lays blame on Carlos for not passing the ball to him when he was unmarked, instead of Pepe.

Tsubaki

1-0 for ETU.

Can ETU hold on until the end with this small lead? Nagoya will have to regroup.

June 27, 2010, Episode 13:

The winds of change is in the air.

The next goal will be critical. Carlos takes note of Tsubaki. Only 15 minutes left. The reds possesses the ball. Kuro is tagging Itagaki as he dribbles towards ETU’s goalpost. He only has to shoot one goal, to even the score. But hits Kuro in the head instead. A second chance opens itself to Itagaki, and he is up against Kuro again. He shoots, but Dori saves it. Itagaki is really frustrated now.

Fuwa, watching from the sidelines, notes that Itagaki can now play with the three Brazilians, and ETU will not be able to counter that many strikers.

Another attempt to score and Dori saves yet another. It’s a corner kick for Nagoya, the crowd chants in support of Dori. The ball goes flying, the whites head butt it away, but the reds tries another goal. It hits the post. Another safe.

Tsubaki lets a ball through, as Itagaki tries to get another go at the goal. Ishihama stops Itagaki’s ball, retrieves it and passes it to Tsubaki. Suddenly Tsubaki sees everything: the pitch, the call, the screaming fans. He’s getting used to seeing things that were oblivious to him before. Zelberto screams for Gino to be marked. Carlos guards Tsubaki. Sera opens the space for Tsubaki. Tsubaki dribbles the ball passed a shocked Carlos, who in that instance, catches a smile on Tsubaki’s face.

“Guard Gino!” But no one hears.

Nagoya defenders kick the ball away from Tsubaki, but Gino is behind to follow through. He kicks, and it’s a second goal for ETU!

Pepe tries to get in for a final goal, but hits the post instead. The whistle blows, ending the victorious game for ETU.

Fuwa is fuming. It may be a victory for ETU, but just a small blip for Nagoya. The score will be settled soon. Will they be able to survive until the end of the season?

Murakoshi is satisfied with their win, which has definitely built the team’s confidence. This is where it starts. Kuro tries to shake the hands of Itagaki, but he slaps it away. Tatsumi has found yet another weakness of Nagoya. The Brazilian players approach Tsubaki. Zelberto acknowledges that even though they lost, they person who enjoyed the game the most will win. The three then offer to exchange either one of their jerseys for Tsubaki’s. He didn’t understand them. He is called to speak to the media as the man of the match, but stutters through the entire interview.

The old-timers vow to bring back the old fans. Everyone leaves happy (except Nagoya), including Fujisawa the reporter, the photographer and ETU fans. Tatsumi is congratulated for the win by the board.

JULY 2010

July 4, 2010, Episode 14:

After overcoming Nagoya everyone’s spirits is rejuvenated. The older fans of ETU begin to recruit their old cheering buddies – unsuccessfully. Everyone has grown up, and has responsibilities.

The only person who knows this is only the start of things are the players and their coach. A day before the game with Sapporo, instead of taking things easy, everyone is out on the field pushing themselves with rigorous training. And they have new and old fans coming to watch them practice and cheering them on.

Meanwhile, ETU’s PR manager is pumped up to retain, regain and recruit more fans and supporters. Maybe they will have to change Tatsumi’s image too while they are at it. Pushing herself, Yuri finally faints from overwork and exhaustion.

Tatsumi finally sees Yuri and advices her that, “Even a player cannot sprint for 90 minutes straight. There’s a balance for everything.”

July 11, 2010, Episode 15:

At the Sapporo game, Gino aka Prince shines throughout the match. Not only is he instrumental to passing 2 goal shots, but he also takes a free kick too, turning their goals to three for the game. With just 10 minutes left to the game, #20 Sera is switched for #9 Saka. As Sera is rested, he curses himself out for not scoring a goal. The game ends in their favor. This is their first win on home ground.

The next day, Tatsumi pulls another all-nighter to try to break down Yokohama’s defense. As he stretches himself out, he sees a weird individual lying on the pitch, first rolling around the grass laughing and the next minute, crying hysterically. Must be an abusive drunkard, Tatsumi thinks. Turns out, it is #11 Natsuki Yotaro who has returned after 8 months of rehabilitating his torn knee ligament. Even when he left in the middle of the season, he was still ETU’s highest scorer. He is a loud-mouthed trumpet though, one that rubs Kuro the wrong way.

 

Natsu

Natsu

 

Seeing Natsu back, Sera worries that his place as the first striker will be taken away from him and returned to Natsu. Instead of joining the team for training, Natsu gets a one-on-one training to ease him into practice. Before Natsu returned, he called Murakoshi to ask him about the style of the new coach. He will have to work his way up from the bottom. This mindless practice does nothing for him, until he catches Tatsumi looking in his direction. This is his chance to show the coach what he can do! He makes a beautiful far-out shot into the goal post, but Tatsumi wasn’t watching. It was all for nothing… or was it? The rest of the players, including Sera saw that difficult feat.

Meanwhile, Macchan tells Tatsumi that maybe they should hire the ex-national player from Argentina, Fernando, even though his salary is a bit on the high side.

July 18, 2010, Episode 16:

In the 5th League Match with the Yokohama Mariners, Sera is pumped up for his chance to prove himself. Dori saves goals after goals, while Sera gets only offside scoring, unable to push pass his guard. Thirty minutes left to the game. Yokohama’s focus has not wavered. Their mission is to contain Prince and shutting him down. They are working their magic, as Prince has yet to touch the ball or aid in any goal shots. Coach Motoki of Yokohama has made sure of that.

Prince has lost his interest in the game. Is it time to pull him out? #8 Hotta has taken over Prince’s position, but yet, it is not enough. Tsubaki isn’t playing his best again. Seems like he is still unable to handle pressure.

However, Natsu is busy warming up and itching to head out to the field. He begs coach to let him out. But Tatsumi has this to say to him: He will not play today. The last time that Yokohama met ETU, it was at this moment that Natsu scored against them. Coach Motoki is expecting a repeat. He will not let the other team read him like that. Be patient and wait for a big bang return. With that, Natsu is satisfied, knowing he will have a chance out in the field soon.

Kiyokawa gets the ball, but he doesn’t pass it to an open Sera. It runs out. ETU gets a corner ball. Gino takes the lead, kicks it long, and Murakoshi gets in one for ETU! Even though Sera didn’t get a chance, he is overjoyed for his team. At the bottom of the 10, Sera is replaced with Saka again. He leaves dejected, without a goal. Out of the eight games they have placed, he has only scored ONE goal. He begins to worry that he will be benched soon.

At the blow of the whistle, ETU stands 0-1. Three winning games in a row.  This is good.

On the bus ride home, Tatsumi tells his players that they will be reviewing the game the next day. Everyone can rest for the night, but Tsubaki will have an individual review.

 

Reaction after a crappy shot

Reaction after a crappy shot

 

Sera, however, worries about his performance and goalless matches. He begins to fret and even worries whether he will make the cut for the next game, the fourth preliminary round against Shimizu Impulse. Lucky for him, he’s still in.

Shimizu has defeated them twice already, therefore think they are inferior to them. The attack the goal post, but Dori is there to protect it. Sera retrieves the ball from the defender, passes it to Gino who overshoots. Sera chases after the runaway ball, but misses it. However, the crowd roars at his try. The opponents are slowing down as ETU runs them ragged. Soon enough, a chance presents itself to Sera. The ball is passed to him and he runs for it and kicks it. It lamely flies right into the open arms of the goalie. WHAT?! Sera’s down holding on to his right leg. Is this the end?

July 25, 2010, Episode 17:

Sera is down from overworking and trying to prove his worth. Tatsumi watches on the sideline worried. The medics signal the coaches that Sera is a no go, as he is replaced by Sakai. Sera limps his way out of the field as the crowd cheers for him at 0-0. The game ends in a draw.

Turns out, Sera suffered only a mild sprain. However, he has to rest for a week. ETU is now down a forward, but even though he tries to act as is nothing is affecting him, he blames himself for sabotaging himself like that. Will ETU’s forward now be Natsu? Will he be replaced? Can he be replaced?

Dejected, he watches the youngsters play in the field as he eats chips. Suddenly, Sakai comes out from the locker room. “If you eat fat stuff like that, it will be good for me,” Sakai says to Sera. Sera thinks that Sakai is attacking him, but he soon realizes that he means well. Just because he’s young, he still has to stay healthy and care for his body. As a forward, scoring is above everything else. During that match, Sera was so caught up in the moment, he didn’t even see Tsubaki waiting to be his back up. If at his age, Sakai is not giving, Sera shouldn’t be giving up either and placing it on Natsuki. The ball always end up in front of the person who wants it the most and never giving up.

With that, Sera’s spirits is lifted.

The next game is ETU vs. Urawa Red Stars. The Urawa fans are so loud, that it’s unbelievable that they are actually on home ground. Urawa starts out weak, but are slowly warming up on the pitch.

Natsu warms up even thought he is benched. In his eagerness, he bumps into #8 Hotta. Finally, Tatsumi calls Natsu in to replace #9 Sakai. Sera watches in agony on the sideline. Overjoyed, Natsu rolls into the field and begins crying. This has been 8 months in the making. He will show them what he can do. In his eagerness of the moment, Natsu lets one slip, as Dori lets a ball in. Pulling himself back to reality, he almost forgot this is not the place to let his guard down. They have to keep pushing on. Tsubaki saves another pass, passes it to #14 Tan, who passes it to Natsuki who dribbles and …scores! The crowd goes wild after they realize what happened.

 

Speechless Sera

Speechless Sera

 

The game against Urawa ends in a draw: 1-1.

Fujisawa, the freelance female reporter, realizes that after this match, Tatsumi will have a tough choice of settling on the new forward. Will it be Sera, Sakai or Natsu, now that Natsu has proven himself to be a star player of caliber. Should that be the way they look at things now?

After the match against Urawa, whom they have lost to for 3 years in a row, ETU players just realize they haven’t lost. But neither have they won. They merely defended. The team is slowly moving forward, but does that mean some others will be left behind?

AUGUST 2010

August 1, 2010, Episode 18:

Now tat Natsu has shown his prowess on the field, should everyone else be worried?

At the 9th League Match against Albireous Niigata, the ETU players are beginning to feel the pressure to perform well. They have drawn on two consecutive games: Shimizu and Urawa. They are down 1. Can they come back?

As the first half progresses, ETU players begin to lag and tire. #15 Akasaki is taken down, but unfortunately he gets pinned with a yellow card by the ref. The whistle blows for the end of the first half as the players retreat to their respective locker rooms. In the ETU locker room, tensions are running high. Akasaki blames #22 (Ishi)Hama for his card. Then he begins to point fingers at everyone for not living up to their roles. Can the league afford to keep half-ass players around? The hot-headed Kuro steps in. He understands Akasaki’s frustration, but this is no way to talk to his seniors on the field. A fight is about to erupt in the small locker room, as Tsubaki refrains from getting into the mix. Meanwhile Tatsumi sits on the sidelines and lets them have each other’s throats. As Yuri watches on worriedly, she gets an fly-away bottle thrown at her.

 

ETU in the locker room mopping

ETU in the locker room mopping

 

The team is definitely annoyed at how bad the game has become. After their losing streak, then their winning streak, now they are on a drawing streak. The consecutive ties is bring the team down. The team has shown its colors and weakness. It lacks cohesion as a team. Tatsumi finally throws down the game board and gets everyone’s attention. Everyone develops at a differently and at different pace. But they only have one team. To win, moving forward, each and everyone player’s feelings will have to be meshed. Everyone has to know what the other is thinking. They will have to live as ONE organism. And that is how strong teams are created.

They head out to the field again to complete the second half of the game. Tatsumi readies the just returned Sera to head out to the field. He’s pumped. So it the rest of the team. The dynamics of the team has changed. They end up losing the game. The only consolation was ETU dominated the second half.

At the Osaka Gunners Home Stadium, Dulfer the German manager of the team speaks to his assistant/translator Sonada.  They will be meeting ETU on the field soon. ETU lost against Niigata. ETU is definitely playing a strong and fascinating game with the return of their second half. The coach must have said or done something to the players during half-time. He remembers Tatsumi making a great impression on him during the press conference. But they are nothing against Osaka Gunners. Dulfer will take the team to the top, but he is looking forwards to the game against ETU.

 

Osaka Gunners

Osaka Gunners: Hiraga, Hatake, Katayama, Hauer

 

Back at ETU, Tatsumi meets with the captain, Murakoshi. There is still some awkwardness lingering in the team, but they are slowly meshing. In that case, they “might be able to do something about Osaka,” Tatsumi replies optimistically as he chomps on his icicle. ” Let’s just crush Osaka!” Tough training begins! Murakoshi watches Tatsumi in awe. He already has a strategy against Osaka so early in the game?  As they leave to meet with the rest of the players, they realize they players have huddle together in the viewing room. They are watching he Osaka vs. Vanguard Kofu game, led by their captain Hiraga and impenetrable offensive team consisting of Shimura, Hauer, Katayama, Hatake and Kubota.

Elsewhere, Japan’s National Team coach, Blanc, is told of ETU meeting Osaka soon at the Sumidagawa stadium. Is he interested in seeing the game? You bet he is! He is very curious on how ETU will deal with Osaka. He awaits eagerly for Tatsumi to show his stuff.

The next day, Tatsumi share with them his secret strategy of taking down the giant – Osaka. After the short explanation, the players stare at him dumbfounded. He can’t be serious. Can he?

What is this David and Goliath strategy of Tatsumi’s? Is it an impossible task, or can it be something so simple that it is a no-brainer?

August 8, 2010, Episode 19:

The episode was spent introducing the players on the field, and the coaches as they have their psychological warfare while summing each other up, leading to the final game. Can they overcome themselves? Will they scale this almost impenetrable fotress?

Doesn’t help that the Osaka Gunners took out Vanguard Kofu on an 8-0 trouncing. It is not only embarrassing for the losing team, but puts a damper in the upcoming team’s confidence.

The plan? 4 forwards against the best of ETU’s 4 defenders. As long as they have fun, they can defeat the undefeated.

At the 10th League game, ETU vs. Osaka Gunners, Blanc, the French National coach arrives.

 

Meeting of the minds

Meeting of the minds

 

Tatsumi bumps into Dulfer as both try to read the other before the match. Tatsumi throws the Dutch off by asking a nonsensical question, “In Holland, are there more bikes than people?” That throws Dulfer off.

Will they be able to stop Osaka Gunner’s offensive team and forwards: #18 Dutch Hauer, #11 bleach blond Hatake, #13 big mouth Katayama, and  “nonthreatening” Kubota. (Is it me? Or does Kubota look like and act like Tsubaki? A long lost brother mayhap?) What about defender Biva, a black dude? Or the National Players consisting of Midfielders #10 Shimura, #5 Hiraga (Captain), Komuro (National and Olympic team player) and Terauchi? This is what money can buy. The perfect team.

Here’s the line up for the underdog, ETU: #1 Dori (goalie), #2 Kuro (Defender), #3 Sugie (Defender), #16 Kiyokawa (Defender), #22 Ishihama (Defender), #6 Murakoshi (Mid-Fielder), #7 Tsubaki (Mid-Fielder), #10 Gino/Prince (Mid-Fielder), #15 Akasaki (Mid-Fielder), #20 Sera (Forward) and #11 Natsuki (Forward). A 4-2-4 line up.

Can they beat the dream team? One can only hope.

The boys vow to stick to Katayama and Hatake like glue. But if they are rubber, it’s just bouncing off. Sera’s all pumped up, and suddenly the overconfident Natsu isn’t quite assured of himself anymore. And Tatsumi vows to break off the Dutch’s stuck up nose at the end of the 90 minutes.

The whistle blows.

August 15, 2010, Episode 20:

Sugie is marking Kubota, while Kuro has Hauer. Now here’s an off-balanced match-up. Kuro is too short for Hauer. Hauer thinks Kuro is only a second rate defender. They are perfect for each other. Almost.

The game begins, and immediately the playmaker Shimura gets the ball off to Hauer, and off to Katayama. Kiyokawa tags Katayama, and with just a slight feint the ball reaches Hatake. Here’s the first chance for Osaka. Dori steadies himself. Hatake takes the shot, but oh, it goes over the post.

Tatsumi realizes that was too soon and way too dangerous. Teams with a winning streak are definitely harder to beat, since their confidence is up. Teams with a score card like a yoyo, however, are unpredictable.

Before you know it, Kuro and Hauer are having a heated debate about their hair and the lack-thereof of it, even if both did not understand the other’s language. Anger, sarcasm and insult is universal. So is vanity.

For one moment, ETU has the ball. Prince passes it to seemingly no one, but Tsubaki rushes in from the back, much to the surprise of #5 Hiraga. For all that work, the ball drifts out of the line. Was it on purpose? Or was Prince testing waters?

Osaka retains the ball again. Shimura controls it, passes it off to Hauer when Murakoshi chases him down. Kuro is on Hauer’s back, intercepts the ball, kicks it, but it becomes a loose ball. Kubota gets it but fights with Kiyokawa to retain it. Hauer is fuming now. How dare the little bald headed man get in his way of scoring?! Kuro surmises that Hauer is bad on his feet even though he’s got 20 cm to him and a better reach.

ETU cannot keep fending off their attackers. They have to control the ball and start making some plays. It is time to put the pressure and lit the fire from under his players, as Dulfer signals to Shimura to attack! Murakoshi realizes then that all attacks begin from Shimura. He has to stop him now. But he’s already released the ball, not to Hauer or Katayama, but to Hatake, then to Kubo. Sugie goes after him. Cuts him with Tsubaki backing him up, but Hatake gets the pass, sets it up, shoots! It would have gotten in if not for Katayama’s head being in the way. The two team mates begin to have some choice words for each other.

Yet another loose ball goes on the run. Kubo has it now. ETU has to break them. Hauer has Kuro guarding him like a hawk, while Kiyokawa preys on Katayama. Katayama taunts Kiyokawa. Is he focused enough to stop him? He knows he can’t beat him with speed. How about a little distraction? With a little look left, but work right, and fancy foot work, the ball passes through. It’s getting too close for comfort. Kuro sees the ball edging forward and focus on the post instead of his stead. In that second, Hauer comes from his back, and reaches for the very high ball and bumps it in. Goal!

0-1.

August 22, 2010, Episode 21:

After Hauer scores that confident-lifting goal, his team mates celebrate by messing with his hair. Sugie, on the other hand, begins to eye Kubota more warily than ever. Kuro even apologizes to Dori for his mistake of not guarding Hauer as he should have.

Seventeen more minutes to half-time and Dulfer seems to think they have won they game. Tatsumi thinks that as long as his players have not rolled over yet, they still have a fighting chance. Even the reporters have their say, calling the game before it even ends. The most ETU can do is draw the game. The do not have the ability to pull a win over a team as strong as Osaka. They are a follower. Not a leader.

ETU finally has the ball. Gino passes to Natsu. But Natsu is letting that one goal affect him, and suddenly realizes he has been surrounded by the enemy. The ball is stolen. Gino’s not giving it to Natsu again. Shimura gets it and looks to set it up for his mates. But Murakoshi gets it back. Passes to Gino, who kicks it off to Tsubaki. Hiraga is watching him and immediately springs into action, and steals it. Looks like Gino’s not too sharp tonight. Or is it a cover?

Osaka definitely has the momentum.

It’s Hauer against Kuro again. Kuro’s not letting this one through the cracks again. He will get the ball if it kills him and he does. But the loose ball is collected by Kubota. Sugie guards him, as Kubota passes the ball back to Hauer for another shot at the goal. The ball goes high. Katayama goes for it. But Dori catches the ball before anyone touches it. The fans let out a sigh of relief.

Tatsumi sees this. Kubota has to be contained or they are done. He is a lose cannon. He is unreadable. Haruhiko Kubota is a 20-year-old Defensive Midfielder, who is part of the National team. He doesn’t have good stamina, but as a forward, he shines. Osaka’s forwards are communicating well. Their passing is quick and accurate. The problem is the loose balls, and Osaka keeps picking them up. They can’t let them control the loose balls anymore.

 

Should I look left or right?

Should I look left or right?

 

Sugie thinks he needs to divide his attention between Kubota and his surroundings. Katayama passes to Hatake instead of Hauer. Sugie’s attention is diverted as he takes his eyes off Kubota for a second. The ball is passed to the over eager Kubota. He takes the well-placed shot. Goal!

0-2.

Suddenly Kubota is in heaven. It doesn’t even matter to Dulfer that the boy’s laughter is a little creepy. The boy is truly loved by the ball. Two goals is better than one. They just sealed their victory against ETU.

10 minutes left to the half as ETU scrambles for something. Anything! Gino to Tsubaki, but Kubota steals it from under their nose as Tsubaki falls from Kubo’s steal. Murakoshi retrieves it. Passes to Natsu who gets it off to Sera. They come up short as the whistle blows for half time.

August 29, 2010, Episode 22:

Dulfer thought he would have a tougher opponent in Tatsumi’s team. Looks like another massacre on Osaka’s hands. Good play boys! But Hatake and Katayama starts decking it out for not sharing the ball enough.

On the otherside, the ETU boys are about to choke each other. Kuro starts on Sugie for not keeping Kubota in check, thereby allowing him to slip by with the second goal. If the defense goes down, the game will be lost. Dori stops the attacks. It’s his fault too. The defense is just lacking from them. Tatsumi is no where to be seen as the team goes into a meltdown. But he finally shows up.

 

The downtrodden

The downtrodden

 

What happened to doing anything fun on the field? The first half was all about defense. They did good. The next half will be about enjoying it. This is the match to enjoy and have fun playing it. If they want to win, they should start having fun. It was unfortunate they lost 2 goals. But a one goal comeback wouldn’t make the second half exciting. Osaka may have dominated the first half, but they can definitely come back!

Time! But what about the motivation speech? I don’t think there is a need for that. If the players didn’t get that, nothing else will work.

Outside, the old fans finally arrive at the stadium after assembling their banner. They ask the youngsters to spare a little room, but they wouldn’t budge. Haneda, the leader of United Skulls, tells them that their support is different. He even calls the old man by his name. He knows his name!! They will never abandon the team, even when it gets rough.

The players are pumped. ETU knows what it has to do. Sugie is awakened.

Blanc tells his naive translator that it is presumptuous to think Osaka is a sure win. The game is determined in 90 minutes. Not 45. The ball is round. Anything is possible.

Osaka fans rejoice 45 minutes too early.

The game begins with Hiragata intercepting Gino’s pass. Shimura gets the ball and passes it, intending it for Hauer. Kuro runs after it, not giving Hauer space to breath and gets there first. In frustration, Hauer nabs Kuro by the collar and immediately gets a foul call. Now Kuro is in Hauer’s psyche. He’s getting to him. He’s getting there, but is he enjoying himself? When the players begin to enjoy themselves, they will truly shine.

Hatake scolds Hauer for his senseless foul.

Kubo gets the ball and looks to either Hatake or Hauer. It doesn’t matter, because Sugie retrieves it from under him and passes it to Gino. He gets it off to Natsu, but he freezes. Before he can even decide if he should pass it off to Sera or Akasaki, Lima the defender snatches the ball from his possession. Gino is really angry now. That’s twice that he passed the ball to Natsu, and twice he screwed in up.

ETU’s defense is holding up it’s bargain. But it’s offense is wanting. And there in lies ETU’s offensive problem. Natsu.

Before the game, Tatsu shouldn’t have told him that he didn’t have enough determination to be a forward.


September 5, 2010, Episode 23:

Natsu took too long to make his shot. But he thinks he will get another chance, even though Gino gave him one very dirty look. If looks could kill, he could be dead. His mumbling to himself frightens the defender Lima. Before the game, he was trying to pump himself up by doing positive thinking or in his case, “image training.” However, in all of his images, Gino was not passing the ball to him. But that’s how Tatsumi finds him, totally weirded out. The man is even too weird for Tatsumi to handle. In any case, Tatsumi has a talk with him and asks him what he thinks a forward is. “A person who shoots and scores,” came the reply. No. “The forward is just simply the person closest to the goal. Nothing more.” It is the team who jumps through hurdles and defenders to get the ball from one end of the field to reach the forward. Anyone can score. But by that time, does that ball belong to the team? Or to the person closest to the goal? You?

 

Gino's WTF face

Gino's WTF face

 

Gino doesn’t like to pass to forwards like him who shoots the ball right away, hoping for a goal.

Back in the game, Akasaki outruns Kumoro and gets the ball to Natsu. Here’s the opening he’s waiting for, but Sera’s free. There are too many defender’s around him. He can take the shot, but this is the team’s ball. It’s not his to risk. He gives a lame kick, and there goes their chance.

Seeing this, Tatsumi realizes Natsu is just not his guy to rely on. He calls for the back-up to warm-up. When a player is in doubt, it affects and infects the entire psyche of the entire team. It is his mistake for believing in him. At times like this, a forward not only has to be a team player, but an egoist too. He has to think for the team, but remember that the ball is his to play. It is only when they have the guts to take the risk, that the game become truly enjoyable. But Natsu is proving him wrong.

10 minutes passes into the second half as Kubota yearns for another goal as he charges ahead. But Sugie is tailing him like a hawk. Hama is attached to Hatake’s hip. Shimura has the ball, but Murakoshi frees it just as Sera is there to aid him. The ball goes on the loose as Kubota gets to it before anyone else can. He dribbles it closer to the goal, but Tsubaki rushes up when no one is expecting and steals it. Seeing him for the first time, Kubo (the twin) realizes Tsubaki is probably the same age as him, but the boy is like the wind. He tries to give chase, but he stumbles and falls. He is out of breath without even trying. Hiraga too tries to block Tsubaki, but he just outruns him too. Tsubaki sees an open Natsu.

Natsu’s playing it safe now. But he remembers Tatsumi telling them the most important part of tonight’s game was to enjoy it. Is he really enjoying the game thinking whether he will injure himself in the process? He kicks, but overshoots. But Akasaki is there for a follow-up. Lima watches the unpredictable Natsu. Tsubaki gets the ball passed to him, but passes it back to Akasaki.

September 12, 2010, Episode 24:

Akasaki’s open. No one is watching him. Everyone is too focused on Natsu. Just like that, he scores a goal. The ETU fan roars! 1-2.

Natsu cheers, but gets the evil eye from Gino. Unrefined humans on the field is bad. Unrefined humans doing a half-ass job is even worse! As his confidence wanes, he suddenly receives a thumbs up sign from Tatsumi. Just like that, he’s back again.

20 minutes left to the game. Dulfer changes out Kubota who is run ragged by Tsubaki, replacing him with #4 Ootomo. Kubota realizes he’s leaving the game while the rest are still playing on the field. He really needs to work on his stamina. Now, Osaka’s loose ball recovery rate has plummeted. But Kubota is not the only one who’s run ragged by Tsubaki. Hiraga, the Captain, and flagship of Osaka Gunners, is also skating on thin ice. How long can he continue before falling? Will ETU have enough fuel left?

 

Oh Captain, my captain!

Oh Captain, my captain!

 

Shimura tells Murakoshi that it’s time to roll up his sleeves and adapt. Even though ETU has speedy players, Osaka just need to simple attacks. With that, he passes the ball nicely to Hatake, who gets it off to Hauer. Kuro chases after it, but Hauer gets a soft kick in, as the ball strolls to the goal. Sugie dashes to it, and rescues it. A disbelief Hauer takes his anger out on Kuro and pushes him. He gets an immediate yellow.

 

A yellow for the whitey

A yellow for the whitey

 

Tatsumi is delighted at this tiff on the field. He compliments Kuro’s talent for irritating and getting the better of people. Kiyokawa is swapped for #14 Tanba, a fullback.

As Hiraga watches Tsubaki run, he realizes that the boy’s speed is truly unbeatable. But should he really be watching for Tsubaki or Gino. Gino’s the one making him run for the crappy balls. Or were they on purpose? Gino finally lets him in on their scheme. He, Hiraga, was the target. Gino only looked unhappy because he had to pretend like he was a bad player, but really, they were trying to tire Hiraga out, by chasing bad balls. Gino actually did good on his bad passes. They weren’t playing badly. It was just a pretense to make them look bad.

Just like the rest, Dulfer sees his captain run out of fuel. By messing up his pace, they disable his defense coverage. Tatsumi also knows Dulfer’s play. Hiraga has never been swapped out except when he is injured. The captain’s existence in the team is irreplaceable. But that is also Dulfer’s pride at play. Can he change mid-stream? Will he?

Tsubaki catches up to the ball, and passes it to Gino. He places it for Tanbee (Tanba) and back to Tsubaki. Tsubaki chases after the ball. Should be give it to Natsu or Sera to make the shot? Or can he do it himself?

 

If I can't stop you with my legs, I'll stop you with my hands

If I can't stop you with my legs, I'll stop you with my hands

 

Not thinking straight anymore, and pissed for being played the fool, Hiraga does the unthinkable. When Tsubaki passes him again, and he has no means of stopping him, he blatantly yanks at his tee before Tsubaki takes a shot at the goal.

September 19, 2010, Episode 25:

It’s a free kick for ETU. Everyone thinks it’s Akasaki who’s taking the shot, since he has been accurate the entire game. But Hiraga knows better. It’s not Akasaki who’s perfect, it’s Gino. Akasaki leads the way, but clears it for Gino, who takes the perfect shot! Goal! The game is tied at 2-2.

Dulfer is not please at all, and against his pride, he pulls outs Hiraga and Hauer and replaces them with Katsunagi and Minami. Osaka’s philosophy hasn’t changed, but he wants this win. It was Dulfer’s unwillingness to change Hiraga that cost them their lead. Tatsumi saw this from the start. He wasn’t targeting the players, but Osaka Gunner’s coach.

Sugi and Akasaki are rested too. Osaka is finally defending.

Sera realizes he wasn’t switched out, but his legs are getting tired. With 4 minutes left to the game, Murokoshi intercepts a ball and passes it to Gino. He tries to get it off to Natsu, but fails. Sera chases after the loose ball to no avail. He will give a reason to Tatsumi for leaving him in for the rest of the game. He may not have the built of a good football player, but he definitely makes up for his lack of his physical prowess. Because of this inferiority complex, he strives even harder than the rest. A stone will shine if you polish it enough.

Murakoshi has the ball again, and passes it to Tsubaki who tries to score. It gets deflected, but Sera is not about to give up on what could be their final chance. Even with opponents on either side, and with a possible injury, Sera dives for the ball, head-butting it in the process. Everyone watches in shock as the ball rolls into the goal post.

 

Que Sera, Sera! The little man has done it!

Que Sera, Sera! The little man has done it!

 

The fans roar. Sera has done it! The whistle blows, signaling the end of the match. A match that has ETU fighting until the very last moment and winning it 3-2. They defeated the undefeated. They took down a Goliath of football.

Dulfer is in no mood to even shake Tatsumi’s hand. The next time they meet, it will be on their home ground.

September 26, 2010, Episode 26:

Sera is immobilized after the game, having dislocated his shoulder winning the final goal. On top of that, Akasaki has been recruited to Japan’s national team for an Olympic qualifier. But, Tatsumi warns, Akasaki better brush up on his skills while away, because his spot on ETU may not be his when he returns. During one of the matches, Akasaki manages to assist an important goal for Japan. He has made a name for himself and ETU.

At the 11th league game against Oita Triplex, Natsu finally scores with the help of Gino, Akasaki and Tsubaki, leading ETU to a 1-0 win. Against Jem Chiba,  Murokoshi saves a goal, ending the game at a 0-0 draw.

At their 13th match against Yokohama, Gino decidedly wants to pull out of the match from the constant pressure to perform their from practice. He throws a “Curry Party,” with everyone from the players to management helping out in the preparation. In the end, fans and people from the neighborhood are invited to the party. A football club isn’t just about the players. It is for those who gather for the love of the game. And that includes the players, fans, administration, tech and more.

 

The underdogs causing a ripple in the sea

The underdogs causing a ripple in the sea

 

ETU has certainly made its presence known and felt. No one can underestimate them now. Neither can they be treated as second class. Just like any other aspects in life, there will always be conflicts, disagreements and a mad dash to the finish line. It’s how you get there that makes the journey worth traveling. If at all you fail the first time, or the countless times after that, standing up again and renewing the resolve to fight again is crucial.

David was laughed at when he told the villagers he was going to take on the giant Goliath. With well-placed stones, and perfect timing, he took down the mammoth in one throw. Yesterday’s underdog is today’s champion. Let the underdogs of the world unite to make a Giant Killing!

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