Friendly – Scotland vs. Japan
While most countries officially recognized in the United Nations only have one national team each and for every discipline, the status with the United Kingdom was quite unique for association football and rugby. As a matter of fact, both disciplines recognize the right for the 4 constituent Home Nations making up the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) to have their own national teams. After a few more days of training in Manchester, the action shifted north as the Samurai Blue were set to face a side that is regarded to be physically more challenging than England although not as skilled.
Japan and Scotland played only 3 times against one another in the past. Twice it was in the context of the Kirin Cup, and the other was just a friendly match. Until then, all matches between the 2 sides were played in Japan. This would be the first time the Samurai Blue play on Scottish soil against the home side.
Tuesday November 14
Scotland vs. Japan (International friendly match)
Hampden Park, Glasgow, UK
After the victory earned by his team at the death at Wembley, Coach Van der Meijde decided to rest most of the players who started the match against England, and test the depth of squad. Kakeru and Yusuke were also among the players starting the evening from the bench. Although the decision was controversial for anyone watching the Samurai Blue from the outside, none of the players complained as they also knew how important it was for everyone to have a chance to show something for future caps.
"Guys, Scotland are the team to beat tonight. I don't think I need to remind you how they will come out; their fans will be a genuine 12th player. Remember this though: we are a team that stands together through thick and thin, and we play our style no matter where we play. Stay focused, use your strengths, and let's get this one too." Raimond gave his pre-match speech.
"YES, BOSS!" the players replied altogether.
Before the players would leave for the players' tunnel, some of them were having a little chat.
"Not too fussed about starting on the bench after scoring that big goal on the other night?" Ukyo asked.
"Not at all. I can understand that; it's the coach’s way to keep everyone's feet on the ground and fresh." Kakeru replied.
"You would have every right to be fussed, Aizawa. Anyway, I won't complain since I can now show who the best of us two is." Akira, another substitute for the moment, said.
"With me in midfield to support Akira, it will feel like the old days at Kamakura High." Ukyo added.
"I thought that was only for one year; you left for F.C. Utrecht after your first year at Kamakura. I haven't seen that much of your partnership at Leicester." Araki replied to Ukyo.
"Sera just arrived to Leicester from Utrecht this season. Give them time, and they will come good." Yusuke replied.
"Let's see about that." Kakeru finished.
A very short time later, both teams walked out of the players' tunnel under the applause of the 51,000+ spectators inside Hampden Park. The Japanese field players wore white shirts, blue shorts, and white socks. Meanwhile, the Scottish field players wore dark blue shirts, white shorts, and red socks.
For this match, Raimond put his trust on former Tokyo Shuukyuu Academy High goalkeeper Eikichi Oba (#23) to hold guard between the pipes. Japan’s backline consisted of veteran defender Maya Yoshida (#22, right-back), the captain Toru Asuka (#5, centre-back), Michirou Takase (#20, centre-back), and Koichi Hibino (#4, left-back). The midfield 3 consisted of Ryoma Oda (#16, central midfielder), Hotaru Yamaguchi (#6, defensive midfielder), and Ukyo Sera (#8, central midfielder). Finally, Japan sent Kaoru Matoba (#17, right winger), Akira Takajo (#19, striker), and Yoshinori Muto (14, left winger) made the front 3. Japan chose to start with a more attacking-minded 4-3-3 formation against Scotland.
Following the Japanese national anthem, the tens of thousands Scottish supporters, nicknamed the Tartan Army, joined their voices with the bagpipe players and the guest lead singer in the full voice interpretation of the Scottish national anthem, "Flower of Scotland".
O FLOWER OF SCOTLAND,
WHEN WILL WE SEE
YOUR LIKE AGAIN,
THAT FOUGHT AND DIED FOR,
YOUR WEE BIT HILL AND GLEN,
AND STOOD AGAINST HIM,
PROUD EDWARD'S ARMY,
AND SENT HIM HOMEWARD,
TAE THINK AGAIN.
THOSE DAYS ARE PAST NOW,
AND IN THE PAST
THEY MUST REMAIN,
BUT WE CAN STILL RISE NOW,
AND BE THE NATION AGAIN,
THAT STOOD AGAINST HIM,
PROUD EDWARD'S ARMY,
AND SENT HIM HOMEWARD,
TAE THINK AGAIN.
"COME ON, SCOTLAND!" the guest singer shouted.
The rally cry at the end of the Scottish national anthem was met with an intimidating barrage of noise that shook the stadium itself. That sound was known as the "Hampden roar", and it was noisier than anything that was heard at Wembley just 4 nights ago. The Scottish supporters, mostly wearing dark blue shirts and some waving various Scottish flags, were ready to play their part in this match.
For this last match between Japan and one of the Home Nations of the United Kingdom, Nana and Noriko didn't miss the chance to take the plane from Manchester to Glasgow a little earlier in the day. The 2 women arrived to their destination at the stadium 15 minutes before kickoff, which was enough for them to get the temporary Japanese flag tattoos stamped on their cheeks. Taeko and Mai previously reserved the tickets for Nana and Noriko in the section where the contingent of Japanese supporters was located for the evening.
"I'm really glad we were able to arrive here a little before the national anthems." Nana said.
"We were not sure if you would come, but we're glad both of you finally came." Taeko said. "Talk about some atmosphere, I can't recall the last time I heard anything as loud as this for an international match."
"The Scots have always been good at creating a top notch atmosphere for their national team. And thanks for the tickets, Tae-itoko." Noriko replied.
"Anytime, you two."
"Is it normal for the coach to start Kakerucchi on the bench after he scored the winning goal against England?" Mai asked. She had her face painted with the motif of the Japanese flag.
"Coach Van der Meijde has always said he wants to give all of his players a chance to show what they're made of. Besides, it was an exhausting match for all the starters in the England match. Still, I'm sure Kakeru will come on later tonight." Nana replied.
"I'm more interested in our goalkeeper having his first start as a representative. What can you tell me about Eikichi Oba, Murasaki-san? You know him since your days at the same academy, don't you?" Noriko asked.
"First of all, call me Mai-chan. No need to sound too formal with me."
"Sure, Mai-chan." Noriko replied.
"'Big E' is a goalkeeper who has never been shy in using an aggressive approach. With his height and his stocky physique, it's easy to understand why he is intimidating." Mai said.
"He is quite the opposite of the calm and calculated Mikiya Tono, but he is also very good." Nana added.
"In other words, it's like comparing between Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar." Noriko said.
"You can say that." Nana replied.
"Who are Schmeichel and Van der Sar?" Mai asked. Her football knowledge was never as broad as Nana's or Noriko's.
"Oh, never mind." Nana replied.
Scotland kicked things off in this friendly match. Using the energy of the Tartan Army as their 12th man, the home side was looking to take an early lead. The first serious attack came on the 5th minute after the start.
Ian Crocker: Robertson... comes up against Matoba...
Controlling the ball from central midfield, a Scottish player attempted to move forward before Kaoru came up facing him. With one clever move, the Scottish wingback made a little feint with the ball to find the right passing angle past Kaoru. The ball then flew deep behind most Japanese defenders who were trying to play the offside trap.
Ian Crocker: Long ball for Stuart Armstrong... It's going deep.
For a split second, everyone thought the pass was overhit and would go out of bounds. However, the Scottish forward managed to get there and cut a pass back towards the front of the Japanese 6-yard box, surprising the defenders completely.
Ian Crocker: Cutting back for GRIFFITHS!
The Scottish striker, Leigh Griffiths, took the shot, but it was blocked by Takase. The towering Japanese defender held the line, but the ball bounced in the air towards Griffiths once more.
Ian Crocker: Saved on the line! It's still in there...
As the Scottish striker tried to take his second chance with a header attempt, Toru jumped in and forced his opponent to hit a weak shot that was easily caught by Eikichi in the end.
Ian Crocker: And Oba reaches it. Oh, Scotland had a sight of goal there.
On the Japanese bench:
"We almost got caught flatfooted just now." Kakeru said.
"You're right. Scotland will play more long balls than England did." Araki replied.
"That's what you get with teams that don't have a huge pool of talent anywhere." Yusuke added.
"That's one more reason to take the game on their half very quickly." Kakeru replied.
And taking the game into Scotland's half of the pitch Japan did. Only 4 minutes after the scoring opportunity missed by Leigh Griffiths, the Samurai Blue deployed their attack after a sustained period of ball control. Ukyo had the ball just on the edge of the Scottish penalty area.
Ian Crocker: Sera... He finds Muto.
Running with the ball at his feet on the side of the Scottish penalty area, Yoshinori waited for the perfect opportunity to cross the ball in front of goal. However when he did, the cross intended for Akira was cleared away by a Scottish defender. As the ball rolled outside of the penalty area, Koichi was about to tee the shot up.
Ian Crocker: Away by Mulgrew. Hibino is in some space...
Koichi's hard shot was blocked by a Scottish defender, but the ball then bounced off another Scottish player. As a result in the following split second, the ball arrived at Akira's feet, and the Scottish goalkeeper was the last obstacle standing.
Ian Crocker: It bounces off to Takajo! Saved by Craig Gordon!
Akira took the shot that was aimed towards the top corner at point blank, but Scottish goalkeeper Craig Gordon succeeded both in closing the gap with the Japanese striker and in putting the hand at the right place to block the shot. The ball bounced behind for a corner kick in favor of Japan though.
"Unlucky!" Kakeru exclaimed as he saw the action from the bench.
"The goalkeeper closed him down very quickly there. With a little more space, I think he would have scored." Yusuke replied.
"That's for sure." Kakeru finished.
On the following corner kick, Ukyo whipped the ball with a curve intended for his tallest teammates in the pack of players in front of the goalkeeper Gordon. Towering everyone on the pitch, Takase got to the ball before anyone else to steer a header of a shot. However, the end result was the ball hitting high and off the outside of the post.
Ian Crocker: Takase with the header! That's a worry with Takase heading the ball off the post and out. That's a let-off for Scotland.
In the stands:
"Oh, man! I thought Beanpole Guy buried that shot in." Mai exclaimed, hands on her head in disbelief.
"Yeah, that was just a whisker away." Noriko added.
"The Scottish players were playing a man-to-man system for marking. Yet Takase managed to lose his guy quite easily, so there has to be something to exploit there." Nana replied.
"If the man-marking is not tight, I say they will pay the price at one point or another." Taeko remarked.
"You're right, Tae-itoko. If our boys keep attacking like that, they will find the gaps and score." Noriko replied.
"The game is afoot." Nana finished with a Shakespearean quote.
Having shown that they can create dangerous scoring chances of their own, the Samurai Blue finally gained control of the momentum in the match. After a few more attacks against which the Scots held their ground, the Japanese players pushed forward inside the Scottish half in the 14th minute... once more into the gaps provided by the home side.
Ian Crocker: Sera to Hibino...
After a pass from Ukyo to Koichi, the latter passed the ball towards Yoshinori in front of him. From the left corridor of the pitch according to the Japanese point of view, Yoshinori executed a perfect give-and-go with Ukyo as the former made a run into the penalty area in full stride.
Ian Crocker: Sera... Muto...
As Yoshinori carved his way across the inside of the penalty area, he looked for Akira. However, the former Kamakura High striker was marked by a Scottish defender. Fortunately for Yoshinori, another teammate was left unmarked.
"Kaki!" Kaoru shouted for a pass.
"Have it, Kaoru!"
Ian Crocker: Matoba coming in here...
Kaoru immediately took a low shot at the Scottish goal. Craig Gordon partially blocked the shot, but the ball struck under his body before it bounced off the ground. Waiting for the rebound a few yards away from Gordon was Akira on the ready to head the ball into the yawning cage.
Ian Crocker: Gordon saves... Is it over the line?
Standing on the goal line, a Scottish defender stuck his foot in a desperate attempt to clear the ball away. However, the Japanese players raised their hands up asking for the goal to be given. A couple of seconds later, the referee blew his whistle to confirm what the Scottish supporters didn't want to see.
Ian Crocker: Yes, it is! Akira Takajo has scored, and gives Japan the lead at Hampden Park just as he did at Wembley on the other night.
"YOSHAAAAAA!!!!" Akira shouted, right fist punching in the air in celebration.
"Nice goal, Akira!" Kaoru congratulated his teammate.
"Nailed it!" Ukyo also congratulated his teammate.
As the Japanese players congratulated the goalscorer on the pitch, the Japanese contingent of supporters inside Hampden Park was celebrating.
"Well done, guys! 1-0!" Mai exclaimed.
"That is going to silence the crowd for a while." Noriko said.
"With such confident and precise passing play, no wonder that Scotland were taken off guard completely." Nana said.
"The Germans scored a goal similar to that one against Scotland in 2015 if I'm not mistaken." Taeko said.
"Yeah, it was the same kind of pass-and-move setup." Noriko replied.
"Let's keep on going like that to bag the next goal." Nana finished.
For several minutes, the Samurai blue continued controlling most of the time any team had the ball. It was an exasperating for the Scottish players having to chase the ball against a team that specializes itself in controlling the ball. However, Scotland had a lifeline when the Samurai Blue made a mistake at the back.
In the 30th minute:
Ian Crocker: Free kick for Scotland.
Scotland earned a free kick just beyond the halfway line. One of the Scottish central defenders took the long free kick deep towards the wing where 2 of his teammates were lurking to receive the ball. Ryoma and a Scottish player both went for the same ball in the air, but the Scot got the ball bouncing off his head and towards his teammate by the lateral edge of the Japanese penalty area. In a reflex move, Maya grabbed the second Scottish player. Because the infringement was on the edge of the penalty area, several spectators shouted for a possible penalty kick.
Ian Crocker: Andrew Robertson was manhandled there by Maya Yoshida. He gives away a free kick, this.
Indeed, Andrew Robertson got his body across right away to stand his ground, which stopped Maya from making any clean challenge. The result was an indirect free kick from an interesting angle in favor of the Scots.
The Scottish kick taker took a hard shot that went by the Japanese 2-man wall and towards the goalkeeper. Eikichi made a dive to stop the ball, but the rebound struck off the nearby Takase before it went into the back of the net. Suddenly, the vast majority at Hampden Park jumped out of their seats.
Ian Crocker: And it's bounced back in! The shot was saved by Oba, and then bounced off Takase into the goal. But Scotland won't care! They are now level at 1-1!
At the same time the Scottish players celebrated the crowd in the middle of the cauldron of noise, Takase was still feeling alone in his own world, distraught by the free goal he gave away to the opposition.
"Sorry, guys. I was sloppy." Takase apologized to his fellow defenders.
"It can happen to anyone. The best way to recover is to play a solid game for the remaining time." Toru replied.
"Just lock it in the back of your mind, and stay focused." Koichi added.
"Keep giving them hell, Takase." Maya added. "I share some of the blame with you. I gave away that free kick."
"Guys… Thank you."
Meanwhile on the Japanese bench:
"I hope Takase is not too shaken after that freak moment." Kakeru said.
"I'm sure he will do fine. Asuka, Hibino, and Yoshida are already using their own experience to comfort him." Yusuke replied.
"Our recent experience at Wembley can be useful if we can hit them back with a goal soon. If we succeed, the pressure will be shifted back upon them." Araki added.
"Stick to the plan." Kakeru said.
Indeed as Kakeru and his friends on the bench hoped, the Samurai Blue used their recent experience at Wembley to provide a strong reply after a setback. From the get-go following the equalizer, Japan took the game in the Scottish half with the firm intent of retaking the lead. Under strong Japanese pressure, the Scottish players tried their best to hold their ground hoping to make it count on a counterattack. The answer was about to come sooner than later.
In the 36th minute:
Ian Crocker: Asuka... Yoshida...
After a few passes strung together at the back, Ryoma ran forward with the ball from the halfway line until the limit of the Scottish final third. When Ryoma came up facing 2 Scottish midfielders, he passed the ball a few yards ahead for Akira.
Ian Crocker: Here he is again: Ryoma Oda, of Arsenal. Now, it's Takajo...
Akira had 2 Scottish defenders in front of him and another running behind, but managed to pass the ball behind a Scottish defender on the right flank. The pass was intended for the running Kaoru, who beat the offside trap. Panic struck among Scottish defenders.
Ian Crocker: Good ball through here for Matoba...
As Kaoru made his run inside the penalty area, he instinctively made a low cross towards the Scottish penalty spot. The pass was certainly behind Akira, who moved himself up in front of the 6-yard box although marked by defenders, but perfectly spot on for the arriving Ukyo. With one strike, Ukyo's shot flew past the Scottish goalkeeper Gordon, off the inside of the post, and into the back of the net.
Ian Crocker: And... Sera scores. Japan are ahead for the second time tonight.
"Nice goal, bro!” Akira congratulated Ukyo.
"Well done, Sera!" Kaoru added.
"Thanks. Nice pass, Matoba."
"Well done, guys! Let's keep on going." Toru rallied his teammates to carry on in the same way.
Meanwhile on the Japanese bench:
"That was great stuff!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"Yep! That's how we love playing our game." Yusuke replied.
"Scotland barely touched the ball since they had their goal." Araki said.
"If they dare bringing more men forward, then we can hit them on the counterattack." Kakeru said.
"I'm not sure they would have many opportunities to push forward if we keep the same pace." Yusuke replied.
The Samurai Blue continued applying relentless pressure against an increasingly disorganized Scottish team, much to the dismay of the home supporters. In the last minute before halftime, the visitors had one last opportunity to knock the stuffing out of the crowd.
Ian Crocker: Hibino... Oda, who makes a run forward.
Ryoma arrived at 40 yards from goal when he made a long diagonal pass for Yoshinori on the left flank. Spotting players entering the Scottish penalty area with pace, Yoshinori crossed the ball for one of his teammates inside the penalty area.
Ian Crocker: Muto with the cross...
The cross flew towards Akira, who then chested the ball with his back facing the goal, and then struck a volley shot in mid-air. The ball went into the back of the Scottish net, but the referee blew the whistle because Akira was offside when Yoshinori passed the ball.
Ian Crocker: Offside. It's not gonna count for Akira Takajo. The flag is up.
Although the Scottish supporters jeered at Akira for not having the decision gone his way, he was the one with a big smile on his face and with good reason. Although Japan didn't score, the momentum was clearly with the visitors. Finally, the halftime whistle was blown. Only the Japanese contingent of supporters was in the mood of applauding the first half performance after they saw their team remaining calm in front of adversity.
"So far, so good for Japan." Mai said.
"I agree with that, Mai-chan. We stayed in control, and it would basically have been 2-0 for us bar for that freak own goal." Nana replied.
"It looks like the players have learned well their lesson from the other night at Wembley. It's not every day that a team controls the play against Scotland that well on Scottish soil." Noriko said.
"Yeah, you're quite right. It sure helps when we have some of our defenders with the best composure out there compared to who started at Wembley at the back with all due respect." Taeko replied.
"I really can't wait to see what Kakeru will do in the second half when he comes on. He and Takajo-san still have that internal rivalry to find out who is the best striker for Japan." Nana said.
"I can't wait either; I'm sure he has a few tricks in his bag for tonight. But what matters the most is that no one gets injured by the end of the match." Noriko replied.
"True, true. I would like to see Yusuke come on as well so we would have a clearer picture of our best team in full." Nana said.
"If you ask me, I already have a very good idea of what our best XI will be for years to come." Noriko finished.
In the Japanese dressing room:
"You're playing hard, boys; job very well done so far. OK, they have a goal, but that was just an accident. They barely had any real crack on goal. Keep working hard in the second half, control the ball, and keep the high pressure on them. You do that, they won't be able to reply, and we will win this match. So go out and kill this thing, boys." Raimond gave his halftime speech.
"YES, BOSS!" the players responded.
After the speech, the players went back to their usual halftime routine. Meanwhile, Kakeru joined Takase and Kaoru for a little talk between former Enoshima players who were once in the same age group when they met.
"You're doing well for a first cap with the National Team with 2 assists." Kakeru said.
"Thanks, Kakeru. It's a good thing that the others lured the opponents out so I can have that much space to do something." Kaoru replied.
"That would be nice if you finish the night with an exclamation mark like a goal."
"We'll see how things go, Kakeru. If I have a chance, I will bury it." Kaoru replied.
"I know you can." Takase added.
"You're doing well too, Takase. Even after that own goal, you kept your composure well." Kakeru said.
"I must say that I have some of the best fellow Japanese defenders to help me pick myself up. After all, I'm still a little new to starting as a defender."
"Yeah, but you did the key effort yourself. No one will take that away." Kaoru replied.
"Kaoru's right. All you need to do now is to keep showing that same authority in the next 45 minutes." Kakeru added.
"Thanks, guys." Takase said.
"Make them fear you like hell in the second half." Kakeru replied.
"Hey, Aizawa, that makes 2 goals for me now. You think you can still catch up?" Akira asked from across the dressing room. It was somewhat a challenge issued between strikers from the same team out of a healthy internal competition.
"There are plenty of ways I can contribute, and that's more than just goals. A Dutchman once taught me how to be lethal against professionals even when I don't score." Kakeru replied with a smile.
Minutes later, both teams left their respective dressing rooms to return on the pitch for the start of the second half. Following their coach's instructions, the Japanese players continued controlling the ball and applying pressure on the Scottish players when the latter had the ball. Not that long after the restart, Japan earned another serious scoring chance in the 50th minute.
Ian Crocker: Berra... Mulgrew...
The 2 Scottish central defenders passed the ball between themselves deep in the Scottish half, but they were hounded by Yoshinori and Akira. As the ball was passed to left wingback Andrew Robertson, it was then that Kaoru stepped up. Robertson tried passing back to a defender behind him, but pressure from Ryoma forced a sloppy pass that Kaoru easily intercepted. As the Scottish defenders were forced to fall back, Kaoru went on to skip past another defender with a skillful feint, and passed the ball towards Akira.
Ian Crocker: Loose ball... Kaoru Matoba... It's Akira Takajo. This could be ominous...
The pass rolled a little bit behind Akira, who was forced to show his back to the Scottish goal. But at that moment, Akira spotted the arriving Ryoma. Without any hesitation, Akira passed the ball back as Ryoma was ready to unleash a strike from outside the penalty area. The following shot was hit hard and low, but Craig Gordon perfectly timed his dive to stop the shot. The bouncing rebound was then dealt with by the Scottish defenders.
Ian Crocker: RYOMA ODA! Plenty of power, Gordon deals with it, and frantically Scotland get it away for a corner.
On the Japanese bench:
"I was sure that was in." Yusuke said.
"Me too. Still, we are controlling things well out there. Have you seen how sloppy they are?" Kakeru asked.
"For all of their limitations, we can't count Scotland for beaten just yet. That was a chance gone begging." Araki replied.
In the following minutes, Kakeru, Yusuke, and Ryosuke were ordered by Raimond to warm up. Meanwhile, Scotland started taking more risks forward knowing that they had to bring the crowd back into the match anyhow. In the 56th minute, the Scots moved onto the attack inside the Japanese half.
Ian Crocker: Robertson... now to Armstrong...
After a throw-in for Scotland, the Scottish wingback Robertson passed the ball ahead for Stuart Armstrong, who then spotted Scottish captain Scott Brown making a run in the middle in full speed. When the ball arrived to Brown, the Scot escaped from Hotaru's marking for a second before he took a chance from distance.
Ian Crocker: BROWN!
The shot was both flying past and dipping from mid-air towards the top corner. However, Eikichi managed to get his hand on it, but only just. The ball then bounced behind for a Scottish corner kick. Nevertheless, the Tartan Army roared in encouragement, begging their team to score the next goal.
Ian Crocker: Good save by Eikichi Oba! Corner for Scotland.
"Good save, Big E." Toru said as he high-fived his goalkeeper.
"Thanks. Let's stop the next one too." Eikichi replied.
On the following corner kick, the ball was aimed towards Scottish defender Christophe Berra in the middle of several players. However, Eikichi stepped out of his line, and punched the ball away with authority right before the ensuing collision between Eikichi and Berra was deemed as a foul committed by the Scottish player. In the end, no one was hurt. That was the only serious action from Scotland before a long time. Around the 59th minute, substitutions were announced for Japan as Kakeru, Yusuke, and Ryosuke were sent to replace Yoshinori, Hotaru, and Maya respectively. Kakeru was tasked to attack from the left forward position in the front 3.
Ian Crocker: Japan will make 3 changes here, 2 of them being Kakeru Aizawa and Yusuke Saeki, of Manchester United.
In the stands:
"Kakerucchi is coming on!" Mai exclaimed.
"Yeah! It's about time." Nana replied before she shouted: "Ganbare, Kakeru!"
"Yusuke is coming on too. Ganbare, Yusuke!" Noriko added.
"Nice to see your boyfriend having a run tonight with you here, Noriko-chan." Taeko said.
"Boyfriend? What are you talking about, Tae-san?" Mai was confused.
"I didn't tell you about it. My cousin Noriko is dating Saeki-kun." Taeko replied to Mai's question.
"What? No way!"
"That's true, Mai-chan." Noriko said.
"Since when?" Mai asked.
"Since the day after Chelsea's match at Old Trafford."
"Lucky you, Noriko-chan." Mai finished.
From that moment on, Kakeru's presence put the Scottish defenders on the back foot while Yusuke's presence was a force to be reckoned with by the Scottish midfielders. Japan continued following their game plan with renewed energy.
In the 64th minute:
Ian Crocker: Asuka for Shima...
Starting from just across the halfway line, Toru sent a deep ball into Ryosuke's path on the wing. At the same time Kaoru lured a Scottish defender, Ryosuke started cutting towards the inside, and dribbled by another Scottish defender. Finding no space to make a through pass, Ryosuke passed the ball back for Ryoma.
Ian Crocker: Matoba wanted it slipped through, but Shima has other ideas. Oda...
Ryoma then sent a lobbed through ball to his left. The ball was intended for Kakeru as the latter beat the Scottish defensive line, and then jumped to head the ball into the back of the Scottish goal. However, the referee blew his whistle. Kakeru was just a fraction offside.
Ian Crocker: Offside. Great header from Aizawa, but the flag is up.
Kakeru then walked back in disappointment, realizing that he just mistimed his attacking run on Ryoma's lobbed through ball. In the stands, the same frustration was shared by the contingent of Japanese supporters who thought for a second that their team got the vital 2-goal lead.
"Damn! That's a shame for Kakerucchi." Mai said out loud.
"He must have been just a fraction offside because I couldn't see it from my position." Nana said.
"The Scottish defenders held their line well this time. All it takes is one defender to be a little slow, and they would be punished." Noriko replied.
"In any case, we better find a way to grab that next goal though before the Scots find their groove." Taeko said.
"I think Kakeru is just warming up, Tae-san. He will find his way." Nana replied.
Only a little more than 2 minutes later, Japan started another attack against Scotland.
Ian Crocker: Matoba is making the run. He tries to get past Robertson.
Running down the right wing, Kaoru pushed the ball forward for himself with speed. Realizing that it was impossible to catch up with Kaoru, Andrew Robertson used his right arm to drag Kaoru down. The referee immediately blew his whistle to give the free kick.
Ian Crocker: Matoba's taken out there. It's a yellow card to Andrew Robertson.
Although a free kick was awarded to Japan while a yellow card was given to Robertson, the Japanese players were still not happy with the referee's decision.
"How does he get away with just a yellow card?" Kakeru asked the referee.
"I was elbowed in the face on purpose. He should be off. You got that wrong big time." Kaoru added to the protests.
"From what I saw, he dragged you down. My assistant has not told me about anything else, and he was just a few yards away from you." the referee replied to Kaoru.
"You better ask your assistant to smell the coffee. Scotland should be down to 10 men after that." Akira also protested.
In the following second, Toru pulled everyone out to calm down the situation before talking with the referee. Meanwhile, the Japanese supporters were also angry at the yellow card when they thought there was enough to send Robertson off.
"YOU STUPID WANKER, ARE YOU TAKING THE PISS? THAT WAS A CLOTHESLINE!" Noriko shouted.
"YOUR PAY SHOULD BE CUT OFF FOR TONIGHT, REF!" Taeko added to the shouts.
"I don't believe it, Witch. How did the referee and the linesman both missed that arm and elbow in the face?" Mai asked.
"That is typical of a referee who doesn't have the guts to make such a key decision against the home team. They are plaguing the game." Nana replied.
"What's worse is that it isn't the first time I see this referee making horrible decisions, the stupid knobhead." Noriko added.
"What was that word?" Mai asked.
"Never mind that." Nana replied.
Both teams then moved in position for what was quite a long indirect free kick. When the referee gave the signal, Ukyo whipped the long ball towards the pack of players attacking the far post. However, the ball was deflected by a Scottish header, and bounced in mid-air towards the side of the penalty area where Kakeru went after the loose ball.
Ian Crocker: Cleared away by Scotland. Aizawa is going after the loose ball...
Kakeru let the ball bounce off the grass once before he surprised everyone with a well-timed bicycle kick. The ball appeared to be flying off target by the far post according to Kakeru's position, but Kaoru managed to stick his right foot in, poking the ball into the goal from the 6-yard box.
Ian Crocker: Goes back for Matoba and IN! Kaoru Matoba has scored for Japan, but that was an incredible effort by Kakeru Aizawa with the overhead kick for a pass. Scotland are now trailing Japan by 3 goals to 1.
As Kaoru celebrated what was his first international goal, the first person he went to see was Kakeru.
"That was a top pass, Kakeru! Top class stuff!" Kaoru exclaimed.
"Congratulations, Kaoru! That's your first senior goal with the National Team." Kakeru replied.
"Yeah, you're right!"
"Well done, Kaoru!" Ryoma said.
"That was one hell of a pass, Aizawa." Toru congratulated Kakeru.
"That's the kind of stuff we all like to see, Kakeru." Yusuke said.
"I already said I can be lethal even when I don't score."
In the stands, it was wild euphoria for the Japanese contingent of supporters while the thousands of Scottish supporters were still shocked with disbelief at what they just saw.
"3-1! 3-1!" Mai exclaimed.
"Well done, Kakeru!" Nana shouted.
"Not feeling so good now, eh Robertson?" Noriko taunted.
"That was astonishing." Taeko said.
"It was. Kakeru had the perfect technique, and that was the most beautiful assist I have ever seen on any goal." Noriko replied.
"Same for me. I have never seen something like that." Nana said.
"We can now put on the cruise control now. They just knocked the stuffing out of the Scottish supporters." Taeko finished.
As Taeko said, the third goal was a crushing blow for Scottish hopes of winning the match in front of their supporters. The Samurai Blue continued controlling most of the ball while most Scottish attacks were stopped before they reached the last third of the pitch. It was mostly cruise control for the Japanese, but the Scottish had one last chance of coming back into the match.
In the 86th minute:
Ian Crocker: Throw-in for Scotland... Armstrong... Brown...
Following a throw-in from deep in the Japanese half, Stuart Armstrong flicked the ball for Scott Brown, who cut across the width of the pitch before passing the ball to his teammate at right wingback, Chris Martin. Waiting for a few seconds, Martin spotted an opening, and unleashed a through ball for Leigh Griffiths.
Ian Crocker: Martin... good through ball for Griffiths.
As Griffiths was about to unleash his shot, Takase arrived in full speed using a shoulder charge to knock the shorter Scottish striker off balance. As a result, the shot was scuffed before it rolled slowly into the side netting for a Japanese goal kick.
Ian Crocker: Into the side netting.
As a few Scottish players protested and demanded a penalty decision for the recent incident, the referee brushed the players away. Meanwhile, Takase was congratulated by his teammates.
"Well done, Takase." Toru said.
"That was some shoulder charge. You knocked him off." Koichi added.
"Thanks. It was about time I show them that I won't take shit." Takase replied.
Meanwhile, Kakeru looked in distance at his tall friend.
'Well done, Takase. You have shown the kind mental strength a defender needs to have after an own goal. I can see that future for you on the National Team as a defender.' Kakeru thought.
The remaining minutes went down without any further fuss with Japan containing Scotland with quick passes and ball retention. The final score was: Scotland 1-3 Japan. Even though some critics might have said that Japan were lucky to defeat England, the way Japan shut down Scotland on their turf confirmed that the new Japanese team was becoming a side that should not be underestimated at all against European teams.
"We won! We won!" Mai exclaimed as she high-fived Nana.
"I know. That was a very good match by our team." Nana replied.
"Bring on the next international competition, I say. This team is ready to challenge anybody." Noriko said.
"We might need a little more experience under the belt before aspiring for something big outside of Asia, but that is coming soon." Taeko replied.
"It's a very good group of players, Tae-san. I think we can rest our hopes on them." Nana finished.
A short time after the match, the Japanese national team were set to leave the stadium to go back to the hotel where they would spend the night. However for 2 of their players, it was almost time for them to leave towards the airport with their bags all packed up.
"You're not staying with the team tonight?" Araki asked.
"Yusuke and I are taking tonight's plane back to Manchester with Nana, Ishiki-san, and her cousin." Kakeru replied.
"That was nice to see both of you in good form. I can't wait to see how things will go from now on." Kaoru said.
"You talk about the next World Cup? I would say let's take it one day at the time, and maintain that learning curve." Yusuke replied.
"Yusuke is right. What we did in the last 2 matches shows how serious we are, but we need to keep our feet on the ground." Kakeru added.
At that moment, Yusuke's cell phone rang. He immediately answered the call: "Hello, Noriko. How are you doing?... Yeah, we are about to join you at the airport. We are just saying goodbye to our teammates..."
As Yusuke continued the conversation with Noriko, Kakeru's friends were mostly surprised by what they just heard.
"Saeki has a girlfriend in Manchester?" Araki asked.
"I didn't expect that. He was not able to find a girlfriend when he was in Germany." Ryoma said.
"That girlfriend is Ishiki-san's cousin. She lives in Manchester." Kakeru replied.
"Lucky him." Takase remarked.
"Well, I guess we'll let you go then. By the way, don't forget our next encounter in January. We will fight for those 3 points at Old Trafford." Araki said to Kakeru.
"Don't expect us to go soft on that day." Ryoma added.
"I look forward to it. See you soon." Kakeru replied.
From there Kakeru and Yusuke left the hotel in a rented car that was driven by one member of the JFA staff following the National Team. From Hampden Park to Glasgow Airport, the drive took around 15 minutes. Once arrived at the airport, Kakeru and Yusuke were greeted by Nana, Noriko, and Taeko just inside the terminal.
"Kakeru!" Nana exclaimed.
"There you are. I missed you." Kakeru gave Nana a quick kiss before he hugged her.
"Yusuke!" Noriko also went kissing and hugging Yusuke.
"I really missed that soft touch of yours." Yusuke said.
"You're the only one I would give that soft touch to." Noriko replied.
Meanwhile, Kakeru took the talk to Taeko: "So, Tae-san, did you like what you saw from the last 2 matches?"
"I sure did. Mai-chan did too. There's plenty of promise with the team." Taeko replied.
"Like Yusuke said to my friends on the team, let's take it one day at the time. Still, I know this team can do well when the time comes." Kakeru replied.
"Good way to see it." Taeko said before she turned towards Noriko. "When I look at you two, I really envy you, Noriko-chan."
"What are you talking about? You already have your own boyfriend." Noriko said.
"Yeah, but he lives in London because of his current job." Taeko replied.
"Oh, come on. That's not the end of the world." Noriko said.
"I'm sure that boyfriend of yours can spare some time with you in Manchester if you ask him." Nana added.
"I guess so." Taeko replied.
"Well, let's go. We have a plane to catch." Kakeru finished.