Japan vs Panama
After a grueling day of training on Monday, it was now Tuesday August 10th, the day of Japan's friendly match with Panama. They were playing in Estadio Rommel Fernández, the most well known athletics stadium in Panama.
"I heard a rumor in the hotel last night." said Meiko as they made their way down the hall to the pitch
"What was it?" Suzuka asked
"That the President of Panama was coming to watch today."
"That's absurd!" said Taeko "When would the President have time to watch a trivial friendly match?"
"I'd hardly call this match 'trivial'." said Keiko as they emerged into the sun-filled stadium. Keiko couldn't help notice that it seemed to be divided between Panama and Japan supporters. Flags from both countries everywhere on opposite sides of the stadium.
"You've always been so serious." said Rin
"Y aquí vienen los representantes japoneses. [And here come the Japanese representatives.]" said the Announcer "Liderados por el entrenador y el ex capitán, Taeko Ishiki, el equipo de las mujeres japonesas se necesita para el campo. [Led by Coach, and former Captain, Taeko Ishiki, the Japanese Women's team takes to the field.]"
"It's nice to finally be some place I'm not well known." said Keiko
"Must be." said Kotoko
"Hey, Keiko." said Suzuka while nudging Keiko's side
"What is it?"
"Is it me, or does that girl look familiar from the back?"
Keiko took a look at the Panamanian Team. All of them, save for one player, were adults 20-22 years old. The one player, who was stretching with her back to them at the moment, was no older than she was. When she was done stretching, she turned to face them, and Keiko and Suzuka recognized her at once: It was Jade.
"JADE?!" both of them exclaimed
"You know that girl?" Nanami asked
"She gave us a tour around the city the day we arrived." said Keiko
"Keiko! Suzuka!" said Jade as she came over to chat with them before the kickoff "Let's have a good match today."
"Y-y-you didn't tell us you were on the opposing team." said Suzuka
"You never asked." Jade replied
"This is what you wanted to surprise us with?" Keiko asked
"Yep! I'm not gonna go easy on ya either."
"Jade Rodríguez, ven aquí. Es casi la hora para el comienzo del partido. [Jade Rodríguez, get over here. It's almost time for the kickoff.]" the Panamanian Captain/Keeper called
"Próximamente, el capitán [Coming, Captain.]" Jade called back then addressed Keiko and Suzuka again "I'm playing as a Defender. Get by me if you can." Jade left for her place without another word
"This'll be interesting." said Keiko
"Agreed." said Suzuka
With Suzuka starting on the bench, Keiko got in position with Meiko to kickoff the game.
Keiko took the ball halfway down Panama's side of the field before passing to Kotoko. Kotoko found herself blocked by two players and passed to Meiko before they could steal the ball. Meiko immediately passed back to Keiko, who then slipped past the last midfielders and and into the Penalty Area.
"Defensa! Marque ella! [Defense! Mark her!]" the Captain called
Keiko was immediately blocked by Jade.
"You can't get by me!" said Jade as Keiko turned to do a roulette
"Watch me!" Keiko replied as she turned back the other way. It was the "Witch Turn".
Keiko slipped by Jade and was one-on-one with the Keeper. The Keeper ran out to do a handball, but Keiko popped the ball over her head and into the goal.
"0-1. Japón marque el primer gol! [0-1. Japan scores the first goal!]" the announcer called, followed by applause from the audience
"Ella es mejor que la de los rumores dicen. [She's better than the rumors say.]" the Captain said to Jade, as Keiko went back to center-field
"No hay duda. [No doubt.]" Jade replied "Pero ahora que He visto esa, no va a funcionar de nuevo. No voy a dejar que su juego en esta la zona de más. [But now that I've seen that, it won't work again. I won't let her play in the Area anymore.]"
"Se adhieren a ella como una lapa, pero hacer tu trabajo como nuestro Libero. [Stick to her like glue, but do your job as our Libero.]"
During the next play, Keiko manged to get the ball back on their side, but Jade, with the help of a Midfielder, stopped Keiko cold the instant she entered the area, and was unable to pass to a teammate.
"Unbelievable! I knew it would be difficult to do that again, but this?" Keiko thought
"Can't move, Keiko?" said Jade
"Shut up!" Keiko replied as she heel-passed the ball through the legs of the Midfielder behind her.
Meiko received the pass and advanced toward the goal. Another Defender stopped her so she passed to Kotoko, who was forced to kick the ball out of bounds due to pressure from the last Defender and another Midfielder
"Their defense wall has hardened since the last play." said Keiko as the positioned themselves for the throw-in by Panama
"No kidding." said Kotoko
"What are we gonna do about this?" Arimi asked
"I don't know." Meiko replied
"I have an idea." said Keiko "Lure them away from the goal, then get the ball to me, I'm gonna try something new."
The looks on the faces of Panama's players told Keiko that they had no idea what they were saying. Panama threw-in and a midfielder received it. As they took the ball into Japan's side their defense line moved up a bit. Finally, halfway down Japan's side, Arimi managed to steal the ball and passed it to Keiko, who was still at center-field. Keiko received it and made her way through the now open space. Panama moved back a bit, but still left space in the Area, expecting Keiko the run straight in. Instead, Keiko stopped just beyond the penalty-mark and shoot the ball straight down the rest of the pitch with her left, past the Keeper, and scored. It was now 0-2 for Japan.
On the bench;
"That... that's such a powerful kick!" said one of the bench players
"I knew she was a lefty, but I didn't know Keiko could kick like that." said Taeko
"The Aizawa Family is known for being lefties, but that's a first for me too." said Suzuka
On the field;
"That won't work again." Keiko told Meiko as they prepared for the next kickoff
"Agreed." Meiko replied
The remainder of the first half continued with the ball exchanging possession continuously. Keiko, and the rest of the offense, were also unable to break through Panama's defense again. Finally, the first half ended with Japan still leading 0-2.
on the bench;
"This is exhausting." said Keiko as they sat down for half-time "They're not letting us move anymore, and Jade is marking me like glue the instant I get near the Area."
"I've noticed from here." said Taeko
"We need to change tactics." said Meiko
"Agreed. But we're also gonna change a player." said Taeko "Akitsuki, I've noticed before that you and Keiko have good combination. You're going in for Kotoko."
"Roger that!" Suzuka replied
on the field;
The second half started, Panama also having made a few subs. Keiko, Suzuka, and Meiko, and the midfielders backing them, tried their bast to breach Panama's defense, but Suzuka's addition didn't appear to make any difference. Finally, Panama's forwards managed to take the ball and cut through Japan's defense. Panama's #7 shot the ball at the goal, but Rin deflected it.
"Now we can reclaim possession and turn this arou... What! What is Jade doing there?!" Keiko thought as she noticed Jade right where the ball had been deflected.
Jade took the chance from the confusion and put the ball away. Jade's goal had narrowed the score to 1-2.
"She's a libero?!" said Suzuka as they prepared for the next kickoff
"This'll be tougher than I thought." said Keiko "It seems Panama is showing its true colors."
Keiko was right. The Panamanian players had started using moves and formations they hadn't been using in the first half. In no time at all, Panama had tied the score, Japan's defense having been shattered. Another reason for this was that the Summer heat, which was higher than Kanagawa and almost no one was used to, was getting to everyone. Jade then again showed her prowess as a libero, allowing Panama to pull ahead 3-2 with ten minutes remaining.
"This... is... ridic... ulous!" Keiko, sweating bullets, panted
"I know." said Meiko "Everyone's sweaty... and exhausted... and we're losing."
"Eight minutes left." Suzuka panted "Let's at least try to tie it up."
"Keiko, Nanami, Arimi, Rin, Suzuka, you five are coming out!" Taeko called form the bench
No reason to refuse, the five of them did as they were told, and their substitutes went in.
on the bench;
"Why did you take us out?" Keiko demanded as they sat down in the shaded bench
"The rest of the team has played in this sort of heat before and is better used to it." said Taeko "You five on the other hand look like you're about to have a heat stroke! This is just a friendly match, don't be so serious."
"I still hate losing!"
"As do I." said Suzuka "But I know when to keep cool."
"I don't mean losing to the opposing team."
"She's talking about Jade." Suzuka thought "I never thought I'd see the day we'd meet a defender who could stop Keiko like that."
Meiko led the team as best she could for the remaining time. But with her best forwards and keeper pulled out due to the heat, Japan's offense and defense was shaky at best. Finally, Panama scored one more goal just before the whistle blew.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP
The game was over, and Panama had won 4-2.
"Y esa es la gente del juego. [And that's the game folks.]" said the announcer "4-2, Panamá gana. Quédate en el resto de esta semana para el Panamá vs Costa Rica y Japón vs juegos de Costa Rica. [4-2, Panama wins. Stick around over the remainder of this week for the Panama vs Costa Rica and Costa Rica vs Japan games.]"
Both team lined up at center-field to thank each other for the game.
"Arigatougozaimasu." Keiko and her team said with a respectful bow
"Gracias por el juego. [Thank you for the game.]" the Panamanian team said
Jade tried to give Keiko a friendly smile, but Keiko just looked away in distaste.
Just as the team was leaving the field, someone was waiting for them; It was the President of Panama, and the First Lady. Taeko had the team line up again, and both of them went down the line shaking hands with each member of the team, Keiko being the final one.
Later at the hotel;
"I can't believe we lost!" Keiko exclaimed as she washed off her sweat in the room's shower "My first trip overseas with Nadeshiko Japan, and we lost!"
"Give it a rest." said Suzuka, also in the shower with Keiko, who was nonetheless disappointed as well "Panama had the advantage in home turf, this just wasn't our day. Besides, we got to shake hands with the President and First Lady."
"I. Don't. Care! What really bugs me is that I lost to Jade like that."
"Come on.... You've never played against her before. There's no way you could've predicted what she did."
"Are you through?"
"(sigh) I'll leave you to your thoughts then." Suzuka then got her towel on and left he bathroom
Keiko didn't come out of the bathroom again for several hours. It was near seven before Suzuka finally decided to do something.
"This is ridiculous." Suzuka thought as she paced the room, trying to think of a way to cheer Keiko up "She's gonna miss dinner of she keeps this up." Suzuka noticed Keiko phone on the nightstand "It's about nine o'clock Wednesday morning back home. Saito-kun's gotta be awake by now. Plus it's his birthday, as Keiko said." Suzuka took Keiko's phone and went into the bathroom
"What is it?" Keiko, sitting in the water-filled tub hugging her curled legs, asked
Suzuka grabbed one of Keiko's hands and put her phone in it "Call. Him." Suzuka said as she left the bathroom again
"That's right. It's morning back home, and it's Saito's birthday too. But will he even be awake?" Keiko thought "Should I.... Oooooohhhhhh!"
In a desperate need to hear Saito's voice, Keiko called his phone. Afer a few seconds, Saito picked up.
"Keiko?" Saito inquired over the phone. Keiko felt her heart skip a beat when she heard Saito's voice "It is you, yes?"
"Y-yeah." Keiko answered "Sorry for calling so early. It's a bit late here."
"I'm aware. But you've actually called at a convenient time."
"Why?" Keiko inquired
"Because when I woke up, I found a cute young girl sleeping in our bed with me."
"Don't make it sound like you were cheating, Onii-chan." said another voice Keiko recognized as Michiru's
"Anyway, what's with the early call?" Saito asked
"Nothing, I'm sorry. It's just...." Keiko's voice was starting to crack "I needed to hear your voice."
"Your voice sounds strained. Did something happen?"
Keiko paused before answering
"We lost." Keiko said at last "We had our first match a few hours ago. The one against Panama. We lost."
"Oh! Keiko, I'm so sorry."
"Don't apologize, please!"
"Anyway, you need to keep your chin up. You won't perform so well in your next match if you stay downhearted. And know that I'm cheering for you."
Keiko started to perk up at last.
Keiko took a deep breath before speaking again "Thank you so much. I'm starting to feel a bit better."
"Then make sure you kick Costa Rica's rear in your next match." said Saito
"I will. And, Saito."
"I'm sorry for forgetting last week, and I can't get you a present this year, but.... Happy Birthday."
"Just bring yourself home safely, and I'll consider that your present to me this year." said Saito
"I'll will. Bye-bye."
Keiko and Saito both hung up on their ends. Keiko then got out of the tub, put on a towel, and left the bathroom at last.
"Feeling better?" Suzuka asked, and Keiko smiled in return
Keiko then received a text from Saito; "One more thing: Yuki-chan finished moving into the building late last night. She's in room 111." the text said
After dinner, Keiko and Suzuka returned to their room to rest. At around 10:25, just as they were about to go to sleep, they heard a knock on the door.
"Who could that be this late?" Keiko asked as Suzuka got up to answer the door
Suzuka looked through the peephole before opening it and saw that it was Jade.
"Hiya! Sorry for calling so late. It was difficult tracking you down." said Jade when Suzuka opened the door
"What? Come to gloat?" Keiko asked spitefully
"Oh, come on! You two know me better than that by now." Jade replied "Look... I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was a member of the Panamanian Women's team."
"Sorry, won't cut it!" said Suzuka "You made fools of us both."
"I know a simple apology won't suffice for what I did, but believe me when I say that I never meant to deceive you. And even if we had just become friends, could you really expect me to hold back?"
"Friends don't lie to each other." said Suzuka as she closed the door
"I didn't lie to you two!" Jade called from the other side of the door "I admit I should've told you from the start, and I'm sorry. The game is over now, can we at least start over?" Suzuka looked at Keiko. Keiko nodded and Suzuka opened the door again "Friends?" Jade asked
"Just don't ever do something like that again." said Keiko
"Dulce alivio. [Sweet relief.]" Jade said as she relaxed at last
"So now what?" Suzuka asked
"I know it's late but... we could go swimming."
Jade led them down to the indoor pool.
"Are we allowed to be here?" Keiko asked when they closed the pool-room door behind them
"It's fine. Even though almost no one comes here at this hour, the pool is open around the clock." said Jade
"You seem to know a bit." said Suzuka
"I stayed in this hotel once a few years back. Did you two bring your swimsuits?"
"We didn't even pack them." said Keiko, as Jade started stripping "You didn't seem to bring yours either."
"A little skinny dip then?" said Jade cheerfully as she stripped off the last of her clothing and jumped in naked
"I didn't realize it when we first met her, but this girl is crazy." Keiko said to Suzuka
"Come on in, the water's great." said Jade as she did a few back strokes
"I can't swim!" Keiko told her
"Then just stay in the shallow end." said Suzuka, who started stripping nude as well
Keiko felt obligated to oblige, stipped naked, and went in as well, though stayed in the shallow area.
"I was too focused on the game earlier to notice, but you both have great figures." said Jade
"Most people say I have my mom's build." said Keiko
"Same with me." said Suzuka
"Me tres. [Me three.]" said Jade "But I'm guessing you have your father's face."
"You guessed right." said Keiko "And you were right about the water, it does feel great."
"After sweating like that today, it's nice to cool off." said Suzuka
"You're just not used to Panama's Summer temps." said Jade
"And we won't have time to get used to them. We're leaving on Saturday."
"That's reminds me. You're free tomorrow, right?" Jade asked
"In that case, Keiko, can I ask you a favor?"
"We only just made up, and you think you can ask a favor?" Keiko asked while splashing Jade "What is it?"
"My mom owns a modeling magazine. There's a shoot for it tomorrow but the model who was supposed to do it just suddenly quit. I accidentally let your name slip to my mother and she looked you up from international news online. She really seemed to like you, so... could you... stand in for the model tomorrow? Please?"
"I am not a model!" Keiko exclaimed
"Not a model? But you're gorgeous! Come on, please? This is a really important issue she's releasing, she can't afford to delay to look for another model. We'll compensate you for the trouble."
"Keiko, please, we're desperate. I'm beggin' ya here!"
"Ishiki-san!" Suzuka exclaimed, and all three girls looked toward the entrance. Taeko was there.
"Um, Taeko-san, how long've you been there?" Keiko asked
"He-he, long enough." said Taeko "And you're free tomorrow, perhaps a distraction might do you some good."
Keiko looked back at Jade and considered for a moment "(sigh) Oh, all right. I'll do it."
"Gracias, you're a life saver!" Jade exclaimed, hugging Keiko around the neck while Suzuka and Taeko giggled