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The Next Knight in the Area Little :Previous Story«Home»Next Chapter: Healing Hearts

Algarve Cup Finals

Wednesday, March 12th, 2036;

It was a mild early-spring evening as 16-year-old, soon-to-be 2nd year highschooler at Enoshima High, Hiroki Aizawa ran home as fast as he could. At his heels were his girlfriend Saki Takasugi, also 16 years old and soon to be an Enoshima High 2nd year, and Michiru Shirayuki, 17 years old and soon to be an Enoshima High 3rd year. These three highschoolers had a reason for running to the Aizawa house so late at night; Half a world away in Algarve, Portugal, Hiroki's mother and sisters were taking part in the final of the Algarve Cup, and the three of them didn't want to miss it.

"Sorry. We came as soon as we could, Dad! Is it on?!" Hiroki exclaimed as he and the girls ran into the house

"The 3rd place match just ended, so you're fine." Kakeru replied as his son and the girls arrived in the living room. Also in the room was, Koichi, Mai Murasaki and her 3-year-old son Yusha, the youngest of the Aizawa family. "Germany trumped Brazil for third place 8-5. It's Mexico vs Japan for the final in an hour."

"Mexico hasn't advanced this far in a decade." said Mai "It's hard to tell how this will turn out."

"How did Nana-san and the girls do in the previous matches?" Saki asked

"Mom's been in the heart of midfield while Keiko-onee-chan and Ryo-onee-chan have been playing two of Japan's three forwards." Koichi explained

"Yet, curiously, Keiko hasn't scored any goals in the since the first round of the knockout stage, though she's made plenty of chances." said Mai

"Kei-kei-nee no goals?" said Yusha

"Don't think too hard." Mai replied ruffling her son's blond head

"Admittedly, Keiko hasn't been in her best form." said Kakeru "Nana's been holding herself back to let the girls shine, but Ryo's been showing Keiko up lately."

"What do you think Keiko-chan's issue is?" Michiru asked as her smartphone rang

"Knowing her, somethin' very personal." said Hiroki

"Moshimoshi? Mom? Yeah, we're watching it right now." said Michiru into her phone

Meanwhile, in the Estádio Algarve in Faro, Portugal, Japanese representatives were getting themselves ready ahead of the finals against Mexico in an hour.

"You have done well so far, ladies. Nevertheless, we still have one roadblock on our path. You can ask Meiko, Nana and the other seniors in the team, they will tell you this: winning the final match of a cup competition is always the most difficult task to accomplish regardless of any opponent. Why? Because the other team will feel exactly the same since they made the distance to get there as well. Mexico... they are not a superpower in the women's game, properly speaking, but they have shown they can create major upsets. They won against a few big teams in their first matches, but so have we. They know how to work hard, but we know how to work even harder. They can score goals, but we can score a lot more than they do. Today, I want to see you flying out on on that pitch." Taeko said to the team in the locker rooms "We pull this off, and the Cup is ours!"

"Yeah!" the team chorused

"I'll be back shortly. Warm yourselves up, and remember to stay hydrated. That's important." Taeko left at that

"Phew! When was the last time Japan made it this far in this particular tournament?" Kotoko Yamamoto asked

"It think it was six years ago." said Rin just as they heard a slap. On the other side of the room, Keiko, whose hair was now short since she cut it upon entering college, was up against a wall, and her younger sister Ryo had just slapped her.

"Did that wake you up?!" Ryo demanded "What is with you?! I don't care what Ishiki-san says, you've been playing lousy for the whole competition!"

"Leave me alone, will you." Keiko replied with her eyes averted

"I will not! After I managed to get accepted into Nadeshiko Japan, I've been waiting months to play with you and Mom in official matches and you haven't been making it any fun at all since we arrived here!"

"Girls, girls!" Nana exclaimed as she pulled them apart "This is no time to fight. Keiko, I know you're still frustrated that you weren't selected for the World Cup last year, but you need to get over it."

"First of all, it was my only chance to play with you on that stage before you retire this year, so of course I was frustrated, but Ryo and I still have a chance to do so at the Olympics this year. I already got over it."

"Then why are you playing like a girl!" Ryo demanded, and Keiko gave her sister a nasty look in reply "You know what I mean! Is this any way for a Pro player to act?!"

"Should we say something?" Arimi Yamaguchi asked Suzuka Akitsuki

"Unless we know what the problem is, we stay out of family matters." Suzuka replied, to which several teammates nodded in approval "Still, those two sisters used to be as close as can be, now they butt heads every time they talk."

"Maybe Keiko went Pro too early." said Meiko

"I'm sure that's not relevant." Suzuka replied

In what seemed like no time at all, Japan was back out on the field against fellow finalist, Mexico aka El Tricolor.

"E bem-vindo novamente a todos, agora é hora para as finais da Algarve Cup 2036. [And welcome back everyone, it's now time for the finals of the 2036 Algarve Cup.]" said the announcer in Portuguese "É do Japão Nadeshiko Japão vs do México El Tricolor. Quem vai sair por cima este ano? [It's Japan's Nadeshiko Japan vs Mexico's El Tricolor. Who will come out on top this year?]"

"Why can't they ever announce in English?!" Keiko exclaimed in frustration

"E os capitães estão fazendo o sorteio. [And the captains are doing the coin toss.]" said the announcer as the American referee flipped the coin "Ele é o pontapé inicial do Japão! [It's Japan's kickoff!]"

"Let's have a fair game." the Mexican captain said in English as Meiko shook her hand

"Same from me." Meiko replied

Once all players went to their assigned positions, Ryo kicked off with Kotoko. Kotoko brought the ball twenty feet down Mexico's side before being blocked by a Mexican mid-fielder. She passed to Ryo, who heel-passed to Nana behind her. Nana then made her way past all of Mexico's players with ease, finally entering the penalty area. Nana then noticed Meiko and Keiko on either side of the goal, and faked a pass to Meiko before passing to Keiko. Keiko received it and sent it flying at the goal, but the ball deflected off the goalkeeper's fingertips before it rang off the post and behind the goal line.

"What was that?!" Ryo demanded, but Keiko never answered and just set up to take the corner kick

"Accidents happen, Ryo-chan." said Arimi

"You and I both know her aim is much better than that!" Ryo replied, and there was too much truth in this for Arimi to say anything back

Keiko got in place for the corner kick. She caught Meiko's sign to pass to Kotoko, but Keiko was impatient and ignored it. Instead she kicked the ball so that it curved around, right into the goal, but the keeper deflected it with ease. At this moment, Ryo jumped up and headed the ball into the goal, making the score 0-1 in favor of Japan.

"It worked out, but you shouldn't ignore my signs." Meiko told Keiko as they made their way back to center-field

"If I see a chance, I'm gonna take it, and to hell with your signs." Keiko replied

"A 'chance'? Everybody could see that the keeper was expecting that!"

"¿Alguna idea de lo que están diciendo? [Any idea what they're saying?]" the Mexican forward asked the captain

"No hablo japonés. [I don't speak Japanese.]" the captain replied "Pero creo que están discutiendo por esa meta. No es ninguna sorpresa. Elder-hermana Aizawa fue Pro justo antes de la Copa del Mundo, pero no ser seleccionado y ha estado teniendo cuestiones desde entonces. [But I think they're arguing over that goal. No surprise. Elder-sister Aizawa went Pro just before the World Cup, but didn't get selected and has been having issues ever since.]"

Mexico kicked off and went through Japan's first line before Nana took the ball back. For the next half-hour, it was a back and forth exchange of the ball down both sides of the field. Keiko was desperate to prove she was still a goal-scorer, and bring on another goal, but kept losing the ball. Finally, Japan managed to get into the penalty area again.

With the half-time whistle about to blow, Keiko received a pass from Kotoko and tried to pull the Phi-trick  past a Mexican defender, but the player took the ball back before Keiko could reconnect with it. Luckily, Nana had more than a enough experience with that fault to take the ball back and passed it to Ryo. Ryo passed to Meiko and she put the ball right past the confused keeper just as the whistle blew.

"E isso é gente meio tempo! [And that's half-time folks!]" the announcer said "Depois de uma primeira metade tenso, o Japão lidera 0-2! Fique com a gente para a conclusão. [After a tense first half, Japan leads 0-2! Stay with us for the conclusion.]"

"Keiko!" Taeko exclaimed as the team sat down for the break "What is wrong with you out there?!"

"I don't know what you mean." Keiko replied as she took a drink of water

"Don't play dumb with me! You haven't been helping at all, and you've been like this for months! I don't know what your issue is, and I don't care. I've been lenient so far, but that time is over from now on. If you can't leave it off the field, then I can't let you continue."

"I admit I haven't been playing my best, but I don't let my problems interfere."

"Listen to her kid herself." said Ryo

"Can it, rat!"

"What did you call me?!"

"No arguing on the bench!" said the referee

At that moment, Taeko's phone rang "Moshimoshi?" Taeko passed her phone to Keiko "It's for you. It's Yuki-chan."

Keiko took the phone and put it to her ear "What, Yuki?"

"Don't 'what' me, Kei-chan! Who's been putting you up since October?" Yuki said on the other end

"Why are you calling me on Ishiki's phone in the middle of the game?!" Keiko demanded

"I've been watching the whole thing. You were playing so badly I had to call and say something."

"Not you too. I've had enough from Ryo." Ryo stuck her tongue out at Keiko for that "We'll finish this later." Keiko hung up and gave Taeko back her phone

"I'll tell you now," said Taeko with the coldest eye-to-eye glare she ever gave to any player as a coach "We might be two goals up, but if you're more of a hindrance than help, I'm subbing you at once. For the record, many higher-ups have seriously considered axing you out of the Olympic squad, and perhaps even further. I defended your case several times since last year, but you're not giving me much of a case now to keep you on board for much longer. You keep playing this way, you won't be able to beat anybody who's even good, let alone great. You want to make this team? Then you better start playing at the level that is gonna force me to keep you here! Are we clear?"

"Yes Ma'am." Keiko replied

The game resumed with Mexico's kickoff.

Suzuka, who had been put in place of Kotoko, sparred with the Mexican forward for two rough minutes before Ryo cleanly slid in and took the ball. Suzuka and Ryo then did one-two passing down the field until the were just outside the penalty area. Suzuka then passed to Meiko, who then passed to Nana. Nana found herself blocked by a Mexican defender, but pushed past with her signature "Witch Turn". Nana then shot the ball at the goal, but the ball was deflected straight back by the keeper. Nana had been hoping for that and turn and did a bicycle shot past the keeper. The score was now 0-3 for Japan.

"Nice one, Mom!" Ryo said giving Nana a high five

Nana looked over at Keiko, who had been on the side of the field holding back the other Mexican defender, an act that partially made Nana's goal possible. Keiko was looking most unhappy, but Nana knew better than to say something at this time.

The second half continued. Mexico had started to figure out Japan's rhythm and was making more aggressive moves. By the twenty-minute mark, Mexico scored a single goal, but Japan answered with another goal, scored by Keiko for the first time that game, in reluctant assistance with Ryo, a minute later. With the score at 1-4, Japan was dominating the game.

"Get in place!" Meiko ordered as they prepared for a throw-in by Mexico after thirty minutes.

Keiko was marking Mexico's Number 9. As the Mexican player threw the ball in, Keiko broke her mark in a snap, headed the ball to her feet, and streaked off to Mexico's goal, leaving the Mexicans bewildered for a brief second. A second later, a Mexican forward, who had been sparring with Keiko for the whole match, took the ball back and swiftly made her way past Japan's defenses and into the penalty area. Keiko, just as almost everybody did, followed her and managed to get in front of her. Keiko tried desperately to get the ball back and managed to trap it from the Mexican player. But in her haste to get going again, Keiko elbowed the Mexican forward in the chest, a foul earning her a yellow card, and Mexico a penalty kick.

"That's your third yellow card in the whole tournament!" Ryo exclaimed as they got in place for the penalty kick

"Leave it." Keiko replied

At that moment, the Mexican player took the shot, but Rin saved it with ease. Before play could resume, another surprise came; at the Japanese bench, an official was holding up the substitution board. The green one was 18, and the number in red was Keiko's.

"What?!" Keiko exclaimed

"Don't make a fuss." said Nana

Since Keiko was already under a yellow card, she went off the field without complaint. After high-fiving their Number 18 in, Keiko came face-to-face with Taeko

"I have no excuses."

"I hoped not. Now sit down."

Not needing another reprimanding, Keiko did as she was told. She was livid as she remembered Taeko's earlier words about what could happen next.

The match continued with Keiko watching from the sidelines. Within minutes, and Keiko felt sickened with herself for realizing it, the whole team started playing better since Keiko was no longer on the field making selfish plays.

With seven minutes to go, Meiko and Nana led the charge for one last goal before the final whistle blew. Meiko and Nana coordinated with Ryo and Suzuka in a rhombus-like formation that kept the Mexicans confused. With four minutes left, Suzuka, in assist with Ryo, put the ball away making the score 1-5 for Japan.

The remaining minutes went by fast, and before anyone knew it, it was over.

PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP

"Há o apito, acabou! Em um pontuação 1-5, o Japão ganha seu segundo título Algarve Cup! [There's the whistle, it's over! At a score of 1-5, Japan wins its second Algarve Cup title!]" said the announcer as the stands erupted in cheers.

The entire team was shouting in victory. Nana, Meiko and Suzuka went over to shake hands with a few Mexican players. Within minutes, the team was lined up and presented with gold medals and the Algarve Cup itself. As the commemorative picture was taken, Keiko tried her best to smile along with everybody else, but she alone didn't feel like celebrating.

This year's second place went to Mexico, while third place went to Germany.

Later, the team made their way to a restaurant they had reserved to celebrate in if they won. Everyone was ecstatic of their win and going over the match with each other, taking almost no notice of their surroundings. Keiko used this to get away for a bit and went onto an outside balcony, taking in the ocean air of the southern Portuguese coast.

"Not joining in?" Suzuka asked when she found Keiko

"I don't feel like celebrating." Keiko replied as he phone rang. Caller ID showed it was from Kakeru, but Keiko ignored it

"Not gonna answer?"

"I don't feel like talking to Dad either."

"Keiko, what's been up with you these past eight months?" Suzuka inquired

"It's my business."

"A little birdie told me that you've been having issues with Saito-kun."

"I'm gonna have a word with Yuki. It's not that big of a deal."

"Not seeing each other since October does not sound like 'not a big deal'."

"It's got nothing to do with you."

"Keiko, you helped me start my relationship with Yamato, let me help you-"

"I said it's got nothing to do with you!" Keiko yelled

"Now, now, don't get upset at Suzuka for no reason." said Taeko, who just showed up at the door "Suzuka, leave us alone." Suzuka obliged and left "I heard a bit of that, and don't worry I won't pry."

"Good." Keiko snapped back

"Don't get snippy with me!" Taeko leaned on the railing with Keiko "I've been talking with your mother, and the higher-ups."

"And? I'm out of the Olympic squad, aren't I?"

"I didn't say that. We've decided to give you one more chance."

"Huh?!"

"It's still too early to say you're not on the squad. The final members of the squad will be decided in June, and will spend July training for the Olympics in Casablanca. In short, you have until June to get your act together. You're one of the best females players in Kantō, only a fool would question that. I want you on the squad for the Olympic this year, but if you can't prove to us that you deserve to be on the squad, well... you get the idea." Taeko left Keiko to her thoughts at that

Keiko was relieved to know she still had a chance to get into the Olympics, but couldn't see how she would bring herself back in time. Needing to stretch her legs a bit more, Keiko left for the streets.

"Excuse me!" said a voice with a local accent when Keiko reached the street. Keiko took notice and saw that it was a 11-year-old boy, holding a soccer ball in one hand and his sister's in the other "Are you Keiko Aizawa?"

"Yes, I am." Keiko replied

"I'm Claudio Batista, this is my younger sister Isabel. We saw the finals today."

"You did, huh? I actually wish you hadn't seen that. I was terrible."

"Regardless of what happened, you're still our favorite player!" Claudio persisted, stunning Keiko "Isabel and I play soccer too. But Isabel's been kinda down on herself after losing a few games. I thought... if she could... from her favorite...."

"Do you like soccer?" Keiko asked as she knelt down to their level

"We love it!" said Claudio

"Soccer's hard to play." said Isabel

"It is hard, but what's the most important thing when playing?" Neither of the kids seemed to have answer. Keiko took the ball and marker from Claudio and wrote "Never give up, and always have fun" in English, and her own name in kanji "My team worked hard for the title they won today. You can do it too." Keiko handed the ball to Isabel "But the most important thing is to have fun. Thank you."

"For what?" Claudio inquired

"For helping me to remember that. Now go off and have some fun."

"Obrigado! [Thank you!]" the siblings exclaimed as they ran off

"I think I can guess what that word means. I can't believe it took two local kids to remind me of what's important." Keiko thought "I think I can get myself back on track now."

Cheered up by her encounter with two young fans, Keiko steered herself forward for the challenges that awaited her.

The Next Knight in the Area Little :Previous Story«Home»Next Chapter: Healing Hearts

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