Knight vs. Assassin, FA Cup 4th Round
Friday January 19
JFA House, Tokyo, Japan
Following the brawl at the end of the Manchester United/Arsenal match, several sports media from all over the world ran stories about the brawl and the revival of the rivalry of old between the 2 sides. In Japan, headlines were using words such as "Civil War" to describe how Kakeru, Yusuke, Nana, and Ryoma got involved at the heart of the various flashpoints. Furthermore, several Japanese sports media called Ryoma's stomp on Nana a total disgrace, and even sparked the debate as whether or not he should be left out of the National Team as a punishment for his behavior. The overwhelming majority of Japanese football fans, mainly those who support United, attacked Ryoma on social media. However, the Arsenal-supporting minority in Japan was also critical of Yusuke. Heated exchanges also took place on Japanese social media.
The topic did not go into deaf ears at the JFA headquarters as a private meeting between the high authorities of Japanese football was held in the aftermath of the suspensions and fines dished by the English FA. The main topic on the agenda was to decide the course of action the JFA should take next on Ryoma. The JFA president, the JFA vice-presidents, all board directors, and coach Raimond van der Meijde were among the people attending the meeting.
"Gentlemen. I don't think you will have to ask what the main topic of this meeting is. So let's get to the point. Ryoma Oda first stomped on Nana Mishima out of frustration at the end of their club match in England. Immediately after, Yusuke Saeki got in forcefully against Oda, and punches were thrown. Furthermore, there are rumours that Kakeru Aizawa and Ryoma Oda also got involved into a verbal confrontation after the match. Now, I want to ask everyone's opinion about the next step to take regarding all 3 players' involvement with the Men's National Team, especially Ryoma Oda. Coach Van der Meijde, what's your take?" JFA president Isamu Tomonaga said.
"President Tomonaga, I have seen national teammates getting at odds against one another in the past. However, what Ryoma Oda did was nothing short of unacceptable by any standard. It was both selfish and gratuitous. I know my opinion will probably disappoint some people in this room, but I think we have to take strong action against Oda." Raimond said.
"What would it be?" Tomonaga asked.
"I believe it is in the JFA's best interest to suspend Ryoma Oda from all JFA activities for the next 4 months, including the international matches we have to play in March and May." Raimond said.
"You don't seem to agree, Takeyama-san." Tomonaga addressed to one of his vice-presidents.
"No, I don't agree. A four-month ban is too severe." Vice-president Keizo Takeyama replied.
"What about you, Murai-san?" Tomonaga asked.
"Takeyama-san is right. Ryoma Oda is one of the most talented players we have with European experience. It would be ill-advised to do something that would single him out of the team. Did Raimond-san not say he was essential in providing internal competition with Yusuke Saeki for the defensive midfielder role?" Vice-president Masahiro Murai asked in return.
"From my position as a national coach, it is my duty to maintain excellent dynamics in the dressing room as well. I know that Ryuichi Araki is out for a few weeks. However, I cannot afford to have Oda as a distraction. It would not be healthy for anyone at this time." Raimond replied.
"I also concur with Raimond-san. On a public relations point of view, it would be a bad idea to have him around the National Team with the way the incident panned out. In that 4-month suspension, I also suggest that he doesn't feature on official JFA promotional videos and items." JFA General secretary Kenji Sawada added.
"I hope you're both aware that some of Ryoma Oda's sponsors will be angry at the JFA if we do that. They also give money to the JFA." one of the members from the board of directors said.
"Perhaps it's time you tell them to warn him about his future conduct. Until further notice, it's their poster boy who did plenty of wrong." Raimond replied.
"Can't be done!"
"Don't tell me it can't be done! Look at the news outlets and the reaction from the majority: he's called a monumental disgrace! Regardless of that, he's also not showing the kind of behavior I want from any player in my team with me in charge." Raimond replied.
"What do you make of Saeki's reaction in that incident?"
"I'm more than fine with that. Saeki stood up for a teammate while Oda did it for his own little person. Are you more worried about the sponsors or about the Arsenal supporters in Japan?" Raimond bluntly asked.
"Don't accuse me of anything!" the member of the board retorted.
"That's enough, everyone." Tomonaga called for order before turning back to Raimond. "Let's say we proceed your way, Raimond-san. How would you then deal personally with the players?"
"First of all, I will call Oda to tell him that he has 2 choices on the table: 1) he accepts the suspension like a man, and then reintegrates the team when I feel he's ready to do so, or 2) he doesn't take my decision too well, and bans himself from the National Team." Raimond replied.
"And what about the others?" Tomonaga asked.
"They will remain in my plans for the friendly matches in March unless they are injured, but they will also have to meet me in private so I make my position clear about team discipline on and off the pitch. If I see something wrong with the mood of the dressing room, they will see bench time."
"Raimond... I know you have your own standards, and they served you very well with us so far. However, I just hope your decision will not destroy an international career. Ryoma Oda is the embodiment of someone who genuinely hates to lose, and we need such players in our team for the future." Tomonaga said.
"I'm not destroying anyone's career, Tomonaga-san. It's about making sure there are limits that must never be crossed, that playing for your country is an honor that has to be earned through respect of certain values. I was brought here because you trust my management skills, so I'm asking you to trust me on that decision as well. I could have signed for a big club, but I saw the huge potential of that young Japanese team. I know how much discipline they need in order to achieve that potential. If Ryoma Oda has that fire in him, he will get on the pitch again for Japan with his own potential intact. However, he will have to master his volatile personality because I will not accept such behavior in my team. Any questions?"
Raimond's last question was met with silence. There was not much to do but accept it as the best course of action to take.
"Very well. Ryoma Oda will be banned from international duty for the next 4 months. The discussion on the PR campaign for the next few months can begin now." Tomonaga said.
From there, the discussion continued further. At the end of the day, Ryoma's fate with the National Team for the next few months was sealed. Beyond the 4-month suspension from playing activities on international duty, Ryoma was also visually scratched out of anything that promotes the JFA, which ranged from websites, posters, highlights compilations of the Men's National Team, etc.
Sunday January 21
West Didsbury, Manchester, UK
In the following weekend after the Arsenal match, United carried the momentum to the South coast of England where they defeated Brighton by a score of 1-0 (January 20). On the same day, Liverpool defeated a depleted Arsenal team by a score of 4-1, and that also meant that United and Arsenal were on the same number of points at the top after 24 Premier League matches. On the day after, Kakeru and Nana were at home having a live long-distance conversation on Skype with Mito. It was evening time in Japan.
"I read the news the other day, Kake-nii. I'm glad that the English soccer authorities didn't suspend you or Nana." Mito said.
"Yeah, we're glad about that. However, it will cost us some money from our own pockets with the fines." Kakeru replied.
"I still can't believe Oda-san was such a coward for doing what he did to Nana-nee in broad daylight." Mito said.
"We didn't see it coming either." Nana replied. "It's sad that I have to say it, but I'm glad Yusuke kicked the living daylights out of him."
"I only scratched the surface of Japanese headlines in sports news since the Arsenal match. How do things look over there, Mito?" Kakeru asked.
"Oda-san got crucified on social media and on TV for the whole week. Except for a few rabid Arsenal fans here and there, lots of people in the country are calling him to be dropped permanently out of the National Team. Some even said that Coach Van der Meijde should have pushed for more than a 4-month ban." Mito said.
"I think a 4-month ban is fine. After that, it's up to Oda to make his move." Kakeru replied
"It's a shame for him, but he brought it upon himself." Nana added.
"Did he apologize to you guys since?"
"No, he didn't. To be honest, I'm disappointed. He's the one who started this mess, and he's the one who better apologize first. If our friendship is strained today, that's all because of him. And if he wants to keep it permanently damaged, then we will live by that. Coach Van der Meijde already talked to me, and said that Oda would not reintegrate the National Team until he ‘grows up' a little bit. He expects more discipline from us representatives when we play for both club and country." Kakeru replied to Mito.
"That's his loss. The Men's National Team will find a way to cope without a loose cannon like him." Nana added.
"I see... Let's change the topic, shall we? I'm glad you're doing well to put United back on track since your return, Kake-nii. So who's your next opponent?" Mito asked.
"We have Liverpool at Old Trafford on next Saturday. It's a FA Cup match." Kakeru replied.
"Wow. I guess the spotlight will be on that match then."
"It sure is, Mito. Playing for United against Liverpool is one of the biggest things you can ask for. When the opponent for this FA Cup tie was announced a couple of weeks ago, we were so focused on the Arsenal match that we are now barely realizing how big the upcoming match will be."
"We have to be ready for anything against them. Liverpool will probably see it as the most important match of their season, and so as we. With Yusuke still banned a few more matches, we will have to adapt our approach." Nana added.
"I watched some highlights from yesterday's Premier League matches, and that new Liverpool striker did very well in his debut. He's also someone you know well." Mito said.
"Takumi Emishi, I know. The Liverpool manager used his contacts in the German Bundesliga to scout Emishi. After that, it was not difficult to convince him of the challenge. Speaking of Emishi, he manhandled Arsenal with a natural hat-trick that made it 3-0 before halftime. So we started watching videos of his match in order to find a way to contain him. It won't be easy for our defenders, I can tell you that." Kakeru replied.
"Still, they will be playing on our turf. Nothing will be easy for them at all, I can promise that." Nana added.
"I hope you will get them on Saturday." Mito said.
"We will go hard on them, don't worry." Kakeru replied.
"By the way, did you find a boyfriend since last summer?" Nana asked.
"There's that one guy I have my eyes on. He's attending the same college classes I'm in, but I think he's a little shy around girls in general. I'm not even sure if he has the courage to confess."
"All I can say is don't give up on him, but also don't try to force yourself on him either, little sister. He might take some time to muster enough courage to break the ice, but the key element is to make him feel comfortable, slowly but surely. If he was more assertive of a person or looked like a womanizer, I probably would have had some doubts about him. However, this is quite a case which I can relate to." Kakeru replied.
"Typical big brother attitude." Mito said. "By the way, how is Noriko-san doing in her relationship with Saeki-san?"
"She is doing very well. Since Noriko and Saeki-kun became a couple, their relationship kept on growing. I think Noriko made lots of girls jealous when Yusuke made the relationship public." Nana replied.
"That's really nice to know." Mito said before she let out a yawn. "Oh, darn it. It's getting late here, and I have a busy day tomorrow with classes."
"It's OK. It was good to speak with you. Say hi to Mom and Dad for me." Kakeru said.
"Yeah, it was good for me too. Hope to talk with you again soon, Kake-nii."
"Anytime, Mito. Good night." Kakeru finished the conversation on Skype.
"You think that guy she talked about will eventually confess if Mito does as you say?" Nana asked.
"It's worth taking the punt. It's mainly a matter of him being able to be comfortable around her, just like you found a way to make me feel at ease before I finally confessed my feelings." Kakeru said.
"You know... There were times when I thought to myself that my feelings might be unrequited, and yet I didn't force myself on you. Looking back at everything we went through together since we first met, I did the right thing." Nana replied.
"I would not have done anything differently either." Kakeru said with a smile.
Then someone rang the doorbell outside the apartment.
"I'll get it." Kakeru said. Once Kakeru saw through the door peep hole to see who the visitor was, he opened the door.
"The Knight in Red! Nice to see you!" Miwa exclaimed.
"We didn't expect to see you today. What brings?" Kakeru asked.
"Bring the Little Witch in as well. Let's talk." Miwa said.
"What is it?" Nana asked.
Noticing the confusion and the slightly worried look on Kakeru and Nana's faces, Miwa prompted herself to calm things down first.
"Don't look so worried, you two. I have good news for both of you." Miwa said as she pulled out 2 folders our of her briefcase.
"Well, shoot." Kakeru said.
"Have you ever seen yourselves nearly 10 meters tall?" Miwa asked.
"Huh?" Kakeru and Nana were even more confused.
"I talk about billboards... Adidas billboards most specifically." Miwa said.
"You're joking!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"I'm serious. I know you two already take part in photoshoots for Adidas Japan with your respective national teams at the same time you wear their boots all the time, but I'm talking about something much bigger. The higher-ups at Adidas Football confirmed to me their genuine interest in you after the great show you put up against Arsenal on last week. They only pick a handful of players from the big leagues to be part of their new international campaign, and you two are among them." Miwa said.
"Unbelievable." Nana said, still wide-eyed at the news.
"So... we really made their short list?" Kakeru asked.
"You made the list. You just joined your teammate Paul Pogba among the internationally recognized Adidas poster boys. It's the next step on your sponsorship deal with Adidas. If you're interested, all you two have to do is take part in a filming session and a photoshoot; all in a day's work at the most." Miwa said.
"I can do that." Kakeru replied.
"All in a day's work, you say?" Nana asked.
"Probably less than that, I say. A few hours, and it would be done mostly at a local pitch in some neighborhood in Manchester and then in a local studio. In all, it's just photos and a little bit of filming. They certainly don't want to waste their talents' time." Miwa replied.
"Now we're getting somewhere." Nana said.
"Sure, it's a nice deal, and there will be more to come. But always remember this: I'm not doing this for the money. I really want to help you build your legacy, and make sure you have an eye for the long term. Take whatever time you need to go over the whole thing, and call me back when you're ready." Miwa replied as she left the folders containing the sponsorship deal proposals on the table.
"Sure. We'll call you back after we have gone through the whole proposal." Kakeru said.
Then Miwa shook hands with Kakeru and Nana on the way out. Kakeru and Nana still had a hard time believing what just came on their plate.
"Can you believe that?" Nana asked.
"If that's a dream, don't wake me up now!" Kakeru replied before the couple laughed out loud.
Saturday January 27
Manchester United vs. Liverpool (FA Cup 4th Round)
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
12:20 PM GMT
The rivalry between United and Liverpool was already big in itself. Nevertheless, the fact that the stakes involved a place into the next round of the FA Cup brought tons of expectations for the match. Every single fan of the beautiful game expected a hard battle between the best of enemies in English football.
In the players' tunnel, both teams lined up. Twist of fate or not, Kakeru stood next to the player who was known in Yoin Academy as the Assassin in the Area. Liverpool's new number 13, Takumi Emishi, was the one who broke the silence between the 2 Japanese forwards.
"I have waited this day for a long time." Takumi said.
"What? You wanted to stand next to me?" Kakeru asked.
"I have been in Takajo's shadow and yours for years. It's about time everyone back home understands that I deserve to be on the National Team." Takumi replied.
"What about you show us what you've got, Emishi?"
"We'll see at the end of the match. I want to see your face when we make it to the next round." Takumi, as cocky as he ever was since his Yoin days, taunted Kakeru.
"In your dreams. By the end of this match, United will be standing tall." Kakeru replied.
Inside the stadium, both sets of supporters were already building up the atmosphere with a war of chants and decibels. While the BBC presents most FA Cup matches on British television, the international English broadcast is provided all around the world by FATV. For high-profile FA Cup matches on FATV, Martin Tyler is your commentator.
Martin Tyler: Well, you could hear the gasps of anticipation up and down the land when the draw from 3 weeks ago set up this mouth-watering tie. Since then, there has been more attraction with both clubs being in their best form of the season so far.
At 12:25 PM, both teams walked out behind the referees. Kakeru was among the starters for Manchester United. Meanwhile, Nana followed alongside her fellow substitutes and the coaching staff on the way to the bench. The Liverpool field players wore black shorts, white and slightly green socks, and white shirts that contrasted completely with the Manchester United home kit.
The starters for Manchester United were: Sergio Romero (goalkeeper), Antonio Valencia (right-back and acting captain), Eric Bailly (centre-back), Matthias Köhler (centre-back), Daley Blind (left-back), Juan Mata (central midfielder), Nemanja Matić (central midfielder), Paul Pogba (central midfielder), Kakeru Aizawa (right forward), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Anthony Martial (left forward).
Meanwhile, the Liverpool starting XI came as followed: Simon Mignolet (goalkeeper), Nathaniel Clyne (right-back), Joël Matip (centre-back), Dejan Lovren (centre-back), Alberto Moreno (left-back), Adam Lallana (central midfielder), Jordan Henderson (central midfielder and captain), Georginio Wijnaldum (central midfielder), Mohamed Salah (right forward), Takumi Emishi (striker), and Sadio Mané (left forward).
Martin Tyler: We are approaching High Noon at Old Trafford. It's a truly dramatic footballing duel in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
When the clock hit 12:30 PM, Liverpool then kicked things off. Although the visitors had the early possession, a bad pass led to a Manchester United throw-in within 25 seconds into the match. Antonio threw the ball in towards Kakeru, but the ball was headed by a Liverpool player towards his own teammate. After a few passes, Liverpool defender Joël Matip attempted a pass towards a teammate ahead, but it was intercepted by Pog.
Martin Tyler: A telegraphed pass. Now, it's Pogba...
Pog passed the ball ahead for Anthony, who charged down the left wing. As Anthony entered the Liverpool penalty area, he attempted to cross the ball towards the front of the goal. However, a Liverpool defender stuck his leg in the way to deflect the ball out of bounds.
Martin Tyler: Here's an early run from Martial... and an early corner for the home side.
The Manchester United supporters roared in expectation of the corner kick. Seconds later, the corner kick was taken by Daley.
Martin Tyler: Daley Blind's corner...
The ball appeared to fly towards Matthias, who was outjumping his marker. However, the Liverpool goalkeeper came out to punch the ball away... as far as just outside of the penalty area though.
Martin Tyler: The goalkeeper came as Köhler came in.
Lurking outside the penalty area, Ander took a shot. But it was deflected off Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson before it was headed away by his teammate Joël Matip. The loose ball then rolled in the middle of the park and towards Pog, who then launched a long aerial ball ahead towards Romelu.
Martin Tyler: Played by Paul Pogba... Up goes the flag.
Romelu was caught in an offside position. Liverpool escaped from a dangerous situation in the opening moments of the match. From that moment, the action moved towards the middle third of the pitch where both teams fought for the ball for 60 seconds. Then a bad pass from a Manchester United midfielder struck a Liverpool player, and bounced to Mohamed Salah.
Martin Tyler: A bad pass there... It's Salah for Liverpool...
The Egyptian winger made a dashing run with only the Manchester United defenders facing him. Sadio then spotted his Senegalese teammate, Sadio Mané, on the right as a passing option.
Martin Tyler: He's got support on the left... Sadio Mané.
Sadio got the ball, but came up facing Antonio. Without hesitation, Salah feinted going in one direction before going in the other direction to create some space. That was all it took for the cross to be fired towards the face of the Manchester United goal. The cross itself was also deadly accurate when Takumi escaped his markers for a split second.
Martin Tyler: It's EMISHI!!!
Takumi managed to escape the marking with good use of some silky footwork. Takumi's diving header deflected the ball into the top corner of the goal, and there was nothing goalkeeper Sergio Romero could do to stop the shot.
Martin Tyler: It's a dream start for Liverpool! Takumi Emishi, who scored a hat-trick against Arsenal last week, has scored his 4th goal in his second appearance for Liverpool. It's: Manchester United 0-1 Liverpool with just a little over 2 minutes into the match.
The 69,000+ Manchester United supporters on the day were stunned by what just happened. Meanwhile, it was joy for the 6,000 Liverpool supporters who were sitting in the Southwest corner and in the upper tier of the East Stand. In cup matches, the away ticket allocation is generally the double of the usual allocation for Premier League matches.
"Come on, lads! Pull yourselves together!" Matthias rallied his teammates.
"It's still early. Let's go back in the fight." Pog added.
'Not bad, Emishi, but I have seen plenty of situations where we fell behind before.' Kakeru thought. 'The real match starts now.'
Even without Nana and Yusuke to support him at the moment, Kakeru was determined to give a proper answer to Takumi's early goal. It only took a few minutes before United started laying a siege on the Liverpool goal.
In the 7th minute:
Martin Tyler: Mata... He finds Aizawa ahead of him.
From the center circle, Juan passed the ball to the dashing Kakeru. On the right side, Kakeru shook Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno off with a feint, and then turned towards the inside. The Japanese forward then spotted Romelu standing on the edge of the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: A give-and-go with Lukaku...
Running down the width of the pitch, Kakeru played the quick give-and-go with Romelu. From the very second the Belgian striker laid the ball back into Kakeru's run, the Japanese forward took a hard shot.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa tries his luck... but misses the target.
Kakeru's shot had some curve and easily went around the nearest Liverpool defender, but it missed the bottom corner at the goalkeeper's right by a few inches. Kakeru looked at the sky in disappointment.
'I should have done better there.' Kakeru thought
"You'll get them later, Knight. Keep on going." Pog said. Those words got Kakeru raising a thumbs-up sign in reply.
Meanwhile one the Manchester United bench:
'Kakeru did a good play there, but that's the kind of chance that should be a shot on goal.' Nana thought. 'Make sure you don't miss the next one.'
Manchester United only got started with their attacks on the Liverpool goal despite the high pressure coming from Liverpool players against the carrier of the ball. All it took was one moment of brilliance or a mistake to alter the course of events in the match on one side or the other. A few minutes later, United went at it again.
In the 12th minute:
Martin Tyler: Köhler... looking ahead for Aizawa.
Matthias attempted a long aerial pass towards Kakeru on the wing, but Alberto Moreno got in the way by heading the ball down. However, Moreno made a mistake as the ball was knocked down towards Juan, who then immediately passed the ball into Kakeru's run.
Martin Tyler: Headed down, but only as far as Juan Mata... and Aizawa's on the run!
Dashing in full speed and beating the offside trap, Kakeru charged his way towards the Liverpool penalty area. Desperate to stop the Japanese forward in red, Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren started grabbing Kakeru outside the penalty area. Everyone in the stadium expected Kakeru to go down, but it was gross underrating of his fighting spirit. Kakeru kept on going, and crossed the white line marking the edge of the box. On the following split second, Lovren's continuous grabbing ended up dragging Kakeru down. The 69,000+ Manchester United supporters inside Old Trafford shouted in unison.
Martin Tyler: He goes down!
The referee looked at the linesman putting the flag across the chest, and then pointed towards the 12-yard spot.
Martin Tyler: Penalty!
The vast majority of the crowd cheered at the decision. However, several Liverpool players protested the decision on the basis that the point of contact on the foul was just outside the penalty area.
"This is NOT a penalty! It was outside! The contact was right there." Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson argued with the referee while pointing outside.
"Aizawa stood up and continued his run inside the penalty area. That's when Lovren dragged Aizawa down, so the foul was inside." the referee replied before he produced a yellow card against Lovren.
Martin Tyler: And it's a yellow card against Lovren as well.
"That's a very bad call! You're intimidated!" Takumi added to the protests.
"I don't want to hear anymore. Everyone not involved in the penalty, move away." The referee ordered everyone except Kakeru and the goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to step outside the penalty area.
While the referee was busy talking to another Liverpool player, Takumi stood on the penalty spot and in front of Kakeru. Noticing that none of the officials was watching, Takumi gave a sweeping kick on the penalty spot before he walked away. It was a deliberate attempt to put Kakeru off
"Hey, what was that for? Look at this." Kakeru complained to the referee, who just turned on his heels. "Emishi plowed it."
"That looks bad, but I cannot penalize anybody for that since I haven't seen it. Get the ball on the spot." the referee replied after looking at the poor condition of the penalty spot.
On the touchline, José and Rui protested to the 4th official about what Takumi just did, but to no avail. In the stands, several spectators noticed that as well.
"What was that with Emishi? That's insane!" Noriko said out loud.
"That was clearly deliberate. Emishi should have a yellow card for that." Harry replied.
"The referee couldn't see it, but at least one of his assistants should have seen it for the referee." Robert said.
"We have to hope Kakeru can maintain his focus on this kick." Sayuri said.
"You're right, Mom. Kuwabara kuwabara (knock on wood)." Noriko finished.
Within seconds, all players got themselves in position. As for Kakeru, he was emptying everything out of his mind ahead of the penalty kick. Finally, the referee blew the whistle.
Martin Tyler: Here goes Aizawa...
Kakeru kept on looking at the goalkeeper's left. Simon Mignolet took a dive towards his own left hand side, but Kakeru played the trick perfectly as he blasted the shot into the top corner at the goalkeeper's right. In a flash, Old Trafford erupted.
Martin Tyler: and Manchester United are level! 1-1!
Kakeru ran a few yards to celebrate what was his 20th goal in all competitions for the club in the season. He was joined by his teammates by the southeast corner flag.
"Big goal, Knight!" Nemanja exclaimed
"Well done!" Pog added.
"Thanks, guys." Kakeru replied.
"That's one step down. Let's go for the next one!" Matthias said.
"Yeah! Let's do this." Kakeru finished.
Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:
"Good shot, Kakeru!" Nana exclaimed.
"That was a great effort by Kakeru to stay focused. It looks like that new Liverpool striker was kicking the spot on purpose before the kick. I think I only saw a reaction like that only once before." Michael said.
"We'll have to be careful with Emishi. He looks like someone who can easily get under one's skin in more ways than one."
"As long as we can contain him, our chances of winning are good." Michael said.
"And also if we score on our goalscoring opportunities." Nana finished.
After the 1-1 goal, United continued to look for gaps on the attack. However, Liverpool adjusted their own approach by continuing to apply high pressure as a moving block. There were no serious threats on the Liverpool goal for several minutes nor did Liverpool seriously threaten the goal at the other end. However, one team was always going to get closer to goal.
In the 32th minute:
Martin Tyler: Blind... finds Pogba.
Daley passed the ball to Pog. Facing 2 Liverpool players ahead of him, Pog made a skillful feint to shake them off. The Frenchman then launched an aerial ball towards the far post.
Martin Tyler: It's for Martial... touched on the way...
The ball that was intended for Anthony bounced off Nathaniel Clyne's head. However, Daley was there to keep the ball in play. The Dutchman then tried his luck by crossing the ball towards the face of goal.
Martin Tyler: Back into LUKAKU! Oh, wonderful save by Mignolet!
The ball was headed hard by Romelu, but the Liverpool goalkeeper stood straight in the way of the shot before the rebound was kicked out of play by a Liverpool defender. Nevertheless, it was disbelief among the Manchester United stands.
"Damn! I was sure that was going in." Noriko said.
"That was a good buildup. Their keeper was lucky if anything." Robert replied.
"If Lukaku headed that ball a few inches on either side, it was a goal." Harry added.
Then Noriko looked at her vibrating smartphone. Sarah just texted her reaction to the last scoring chance.
"Unlucky there. Hope we won't miss too many of those later." Sarah's text message said.
Noriko then typed the reply: "Agree, but we also need to keep our eyes on Emishi. Have a feeling he will be a thorn in the side today."
And Noriko was right. Takumi Emishi's main attributes were his dribbling skills in movement and his deadly finish. Should Emishi have enough space and time to do something on the attack, he would become a huge problem for any defender to deal with.
In the 45th minute:
Martin Tyler: Lallana... Henderson...
After a few passes strung together between the 2 Liverpool midfielders, the Liverpool captain passed the ball forward to Sadio. The Senegalese winger then arrived in the opposite direction, but only to flick the ball towards Takumi.
Martin Tyler: Sadio Mané with the flick...
Takumi then dashed forward, and came up facing both defenders in red Matthias Köhler and Eric Bailly. The Japanese striker then feinted going to his left and then to his right. Finally, Takumi saw an opening to his left (and thus to Eric's right).
Martin Tyler: Here's Emishi...
Takumi then took a left-footed shot around Eric, but the Manchester United goalkeeper parried the shot with a diving save.
Martin Tyler: Decent effort by Emishi, but stopped by Romero. Now, it's Valencia...
The rebound was then collected by Antonio, who ran with the ball before he passed it across the halfway line. At the same time, the clock struck 45:00.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEP!!!
It was the signal for halftime without any time to be added on. At that moment, both teams were happy with respect to some parts of their respective game plans. However, they also knew that both managers would make a number of adjustments in order to win the contest.
From his seat somewhere in the stands, the suspended Yusuke was watching the match alongside other Manchester United players and personnel. The first thing he did at halftime was to give Noriko a phone call.
"What do you think of the first half, Noriko?"
"It was a very bad start with the early goal. Otherwise, United played a good first half, especially with Kakeru earning and scoring the penalty." Noriko replied.
"Yeah, Emishi really took his chance on the first shot on goal." Yusuke said.
"Speaking of Emishi, did you ever play against him either in high school or at club level?" Noriko asked.
"Only once. He was playing for Yoin Academy when I faced him in the regional playoffs of the Inter-High School summer tournament in my second year. That was a little before I left for Dortmund." Yusuke replied.
"How did it go in that match?"
"We... Kamakura High thrashed them 5-0. Emishi didn't have any influence on the match because I gave him a very hard time, but I remember that he acted with a big mouth against us. When he's on his game, he is a very dangerous player. But if he's provoked anyhow, he loses his focus." Yusuke said.
"I think United have been a little too respectful of Emishi out there after the early goal. I was not happy at the way the defenders let him come in a shooting position right before halftime. They should get in his face." Noriko replied.
"I think it's because they don't know enough about him, Noriko. The first goal probably got them to become a lot more cautious now."
"Well, I hope the coaches will tell the defenders to give him no space at all."
"I hope it too. Well, enjoy the second half then. We'll meet with the others after the match." Yusuke said.
"You too. See you later." Noriko finished.
After all speeches and tactical adjustments from both sides at halftime, the second half started with Manchester United on the attack towards the Stretford End. However, the team from Merseyside earned the first serious scoring chance in the second half.
In the 52nd minute:
Martin Tyler: Clyne with the throw-in... to Mané.
Following a throw-in, Sadio made a 180-degree turn before he ran a few yards on the width of the pitch at 25 yards from goal. At the same time, the Senegalese winger was hounded by Pog. Then Sadio passed the ball to Alberto before the ball was immediately returned to Sadio, who got back to his more natural position on the left wing.
Martin Tyler: It's back to Mané... He's trying to shake Mata off.
Feeling that Juan might lose his man in a 1v1 duel, Antonio provided additional defensive support to stop the Liverpool winger. At that moment, Sadio passed the ball back to Alberto. A split second later, Liverpool's Spanish left-back passed the ball to Georginio Wijnaldum, who then flicked it into Sadio's run. The Senegalese winger was going in alone!
Martin Tyler: Wijnaldum... Great football by Liverpool! Mané...
Sadio Mané only had one obstacle left between him and a goal: Sergio Romero. Despite the danger, the Argentine goalkeeper stood his ground. Running out of time, Sadio tried to shoot across the goalkeeper. However Romero blocked the shot, and the ball bounced out of play.
Martin Tyler: Terrific save by Sergio Romero! It's a corner for Liverpool.
The Manchester United players quickly came to congratulate their goalkeeper.
"Good save, Sergio!" Matthias gave Sergio a high-five handshake.
"Thanks, Mosquetero (Musketeer)." Sergio replied.
"Good thing you were there, Sergio!" Kakeru said.
"Thanks. Move to the near post, Caballero (Knight)" Sergio instructed Kakeru to move into a defensive position.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, the corner kick was not well executed as the ball flew out of bounds on a curve; United were given a goal kick as a result. However, Liverpool were not done exploiting their stretch of momentum. Only a few minutes later, the visitors came up with other dangerous attacks on the Manchester United goal.
In the 56th minute:
Martin Tyler: Henderson will take the corner for Liverpool.
The Liverpool skipper was standing on the ready, waiting for the referee's signal to proceed with the corner kick.
The ball was launched with a swirl that appeared to move away from the Manchester United goal. However, it was a very good ball for Dejan Lovren to give the head at and despite the presence of several tall Manchester United players.
Martin Tyler: Lovren! Good save by Romero!
In a reflex motion, Sergio blocked the shot with his hands before the loose ball was cleared away by Matthias. However, the ball was not quite out of bounds as Nathaniel Clyne retrieved it.
Martin Tyler: Clyne... Wijnaldum...
After Georginio Wijnaldum received the pass, the Dutchman moved a few yards ahead before Nemanja stepped ahead to block his path. Nevertheless, Wijnaldum passed the ball to Takumi right on the edge of the penalty area.
"Don't think about it." Matthias said.
Even with the Manchester United goal 18 yards away and behind his back, Takumi made a couple of feints to shake Matthias off long enough to find a gap. When Takumi saw the gap, he took a hard shot.
Martin Tyler: Emishi... Ohh! That's off the top of the crossbar!
Unfortunately for Takumi, but much to the relief of anyone supporting Manchester United, the shot went off the crossbar and out for a goal kick. If that shot was a few inches lower, Liverpool would have regained the lead.
Meanwhile in the stands, Noriko was really not happy at how the second half went so far.
"What the hell are we doing? We're letting Liverpool dictate the second half so far." Noriko said.
"I don't know, but we are really lucky not to be down a goal after that." Harry replied.
"It looks like we have a hard time keeping the pace. I have to say that the high pressure coming from Liverpool is wearing our boys down." Robert said.
"We need someone to inject some energy out there." Sayuri remarked.
"You're right about that, Mom. I really wonder what Mourinho will do next." Noriko said before she took a look at the Manchester United substitutes on the touchline.
At the same time, on the touchline:
'Just hang in there, guys.' Nana thought. 'One of us will be coming on soon.'
At that moment, Nana, Marcos, and Zlatan were warming up on the touchline. José already knew that his team needed an attacking spark in order to regain the momentum. Right after the hour mark, Manchester United made the first substitution of the match.
In the 61st minute:
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 8, Juan Mata... number 7, Nana Mishima.
"You did well, Juan." Nana said.
"Get them, Witch." Juan gave Nana the double high five before the latter came on.
Martin Tyler: Well, Nana Mishima has come on for Manchester United. Can she provide the spark her side has been lacking since halftime?
"I'm glad you're here, Seven." Kakeru said.
"Thanks. Let's go after them now." Nana replied.
As if United were hoping that Nana would have an impact soon after her arrival, she did not wait for long before she started showing how valuable and dangerous she is. In fact, that first impression came after only 40 seconds.
Martin Tyler: Pogba... Martial...
When Anthony received the ball, he tried to shake a Liverpool player off. However, the situation drew a tackle from the Liverpool player. Nevertheless, the loose ball was there for Pot to pick up, and thus the referee allowed the play to continue.
Martin Tyler: The referee gives the advantage. Pogba... Lukaku.
The big Belgian received the ball before he passed it towards Kakeru on the right wing. The Japanese forward then rushed forward until he reached close to the edge of the Liverpool penalty area. However, there were 2 Liverpool players trying to close him down.
"Kakeru!" Nana called for a pass.
Without further due, Kakeru made a tricky backheel pass to his left.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... a drop pass to Mishima.
As Nana received the pass, she immediately dashed along the edge of the Liverpool penalty area. When Nana saw a gap between 2 Liverpool defenders, she lashed out an unexpectedly hard drive towards the goal with what was supposed to be her weaker left foot. The Liverpool goalkeeper could not reach the ball, but...
Martin Tyler: Having a go... OH! Inside of the post, along the line past the other post, you don't get any closer than that without scoring.
Nana's shot struck the inside of the post, but then the ball bounced in front of the goal line before the spin effect sent the ball out of bounds for a goal kick. No one inside Old Trafford could believe what just happened.
"You gotta be joking!" Nana exclaimed.
"Talk about making a first impression, that wasn't bad. Keep on going, Seven." Kakeru said.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"I was sure that was going in! Oh my God!" Noriko exclaimed in despair.
"Very unlucky. Still, I see that action as a good sign; Nana didn't need long to move up to speed." Robert said.
"Yeah, and I hope momentum will start swinging back on our side." Noriko replied.
From that moment, Manchester United started to regain some control by attacking more while giving the visitors very few chances. However, the Liverpool side was still a tough nut to crack, and they only needed to capitalize on one good scoring chance to grab the lead again.
In the 70th minute:
Martin Tyler: Here's Alberto Moreno...
From deep in his own half, Liverpool's Spanish left-back launched a pass towards Takumi, who ran back towards the halfway line. Then in a series of one-touch passes, Takumi sent the ball to Wijnaldum, who then launched a pass forward for Sadio on the attack.
Martin Tyler: Lovely pass by Wijnaldum. Mané is in some space...
Sadio tried to outrun Antonio, but the Ecuadorian in Mancunian red stood firm in front of the Senegalese. However, several Liverpool players were quickly moving forward to support the attack, and that situation allowed Sadio to make a cheeky pass behind him and into Wijnaldum's overlapping path.
Martin Tyler: Good pass to Wijnaldum...
Without any hesitation, Wijnaldum launched a pass across and towards Takumi. Having escaped from his markers, Takumi took a half volley shot that left no chance to Sergio Romero at point blank. With 20 minutes to go, it became: Manchester United 1-2 Liverpool!
Martin Tyler: EMISHIIII!!! Brilliant Liverpool goal! Superb team effort! His second, Liverpool's second, Manchester United ripped apart with 20 minutes left to go.
After the goal, Takumi celebrated with a cocky stomach dive into the Manchester United net. The scene drew the ire of several Manchester United supporters behind the goal, but the Liverpool players didn't care. Meanwhile, the Manchester United players were looking in disgust.
In the stands:
'It's not the time to lose hope just yet, guys. We have 20 minutes and injury time left to play. So let's regroup and have another go.' Yusuke thought.
As if Kakeru read in Yusuke's mind, the former quickly carried the ball towards the center circle to get everyone ready at the restart. Nevertheless, the Liverpool players were taking their time walking across the halfway line. Walking right next to Kakeru and Nana, Takumi started playing mind games with the former two.
"I'm the better forward this time, Aizawa.” Takumi said.
"This is far from over with 20 minutes left.” Kakeru replied.
"You haven't seen anything yet.” Nana added.
"I still wonder how Leonardo Silva sees you as an equal to him, Mishima. If it wasn't for your good looks, I guess you wouldn't be here now.” Takumi said to Nana.
"Don't push it.” Nana glared and pointed at Takumi.
"You better watch your mouth, Emishi. Say something against my fiancée, and you will have to deal with me.” Kakeru added.
"More empty promises. This is Liverpool's day, period.” Takumi say before he walked on his way.
"That guy.” Nana said.
"I know. He can be despicable with his mouth, but hurting him on the scoreboard is the way to do it.” Kakeru replied.
"Right, let's shove his words down his throat.” Nana finished.
In the stands, the Manchester United supporters were starting to contemplate the prospect of defeat against their eternal archrivals. However, the Manchester United players knew better than anyone else how dangerous they can be themselves when having their backs to the wall. A few minutes after the restart, the Red Devils came knocking at the door.
In the 73rd minute:
Martin Tyler: Valencia... Aizawa...
Upon receiving the pass and despite having Alberto Moreno straight on him, Kakeru executed a 180-degree spin to get around Moreno. As a result, Kakeru led the rush in the Liverpool half.
Martin Tyler: Beautiful turn to get past Moreno. Aizawa... finds Mishima.
Kakeru passed the ball to Nana, who then flicked it forward to Romelu. Although surrounded by Liverpool players, the big Belgian passed the ball towards Kakeru on the right. The Japanese forward had lots of space in front of him.
Martin Tyler: Well played by Lukaku. Aizawa... Liverpool are stretched…
Arriving quickly inside the Liverpool penalty area, Kakeru knew that he had to do something quickly as the Liverpool players arrived en masse to defend their goal. Finding the gap at the right time, Kakeru chipped the ball across for a teammate. The play appeared to be a certain goal for an instant.
Martin Tyler: Across at the back post, POGBA! Terrific save by Simon Mignolet!
Pog slid in to steer the ball at the Liverpool goal, but the Liverpool goalkeeper stood at the right place and at the right time to make the save. Then the ball was cleared away by a Liverpool defender, but not quite out of bounds yet.
Martin Tyler: Cleared away by Lovren… but it's kept in by Köhler.
Matthias then passed the ball forward to Nemanja, who then sent a pass ahead to Pog. The Frenchman then cut his run diagonally as if he was preparing to take a long-distance shot.
"Pog!" Kakeru called for a pass on the right wing.
"Knight! Take!" Pog replied.
Martin Tyler: Pogba. He has Aizawa on the right.
Having seen where his teammates were positioned, Kakeru made a one-touch pass the first appeared to be destined for Nana. However, Nana acted as the dummy by letting the ball roll towards Romelu inside the Liverpool penalty area.
Martin Tyler: It's Lukaku...
As Romelu took his shot, Liverpool defender Joël Matip threw himself in to block the shot. However, the deflected ball was looping dangerously in the air towards the goal.
Martin Tyler: A deflection!
In a reflex motion, the Liverpool goalkeeper jumped before he put his hand in the way to push the ball above the crossbar and out of play. Again, the Manchester United players and supporters could only watch in disbelief.
Martin Tyler: Well, Simon Mignolet extended himself to get that.
Unfortunately for United, the following corner kick was caught by the Liverpool goalkeeper. After those missed opportunities, José got Zlatan ready to come on. In such situation, the gameplan was to have Zlatan play almost like an advanced central midfielder as per his habit to drop deeper than the usual striker's position. At the same time, Kakeru and Nana would play on the left and right flanks respectively.
In the 76th minute:
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 11, Anthony Martial... number 10, Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"COME ON, ZLATAN!" Noriko shouted.
"Just like in the Arsenal match, Mourinho is putting all of his strong cards all out at once." Harry said.
"You got that right, Dad. All we can do now is to keep our fingers crossed." Robert replied.
"Fingers crossed." Noriko added.
In response, Liverpool replaced Adam Lallana and Mohamed Salah by Emre Can and James Milner at their respective positions very shortly later. Zlatan's arrival took a few minutes to have a desired effect for Manchester United. But from the moment the players found their marks, the Red Devils became even more dangerous on the attack. The Liverpool goal was still under siege.
In the 81st minute:
Martin Tyler: It's Aizawa... Some great work by the Japanese forward.
Leading an attack, Kakeru tried to dribble his way inside the Liverpool penalty area. Although he was surrounded by 3 Liverpool players, Kakeru passed the ball to his right as he knew someone would receive the pass. And that teammate in red was Zlatan.
Martin Tyler: Good pass to Ibrahimović...
Zlatan took a shot that was destined to curl inside the bottom corner at the goalkeeper's left. However, the Liverpool goalkeeper parried the ball away with both a well-timed dive.
Martin Tyler: Has a go! Stopped by Mignolet again!
The ball then bounced back into Alberto Moreno's feet, but Romelu applied some pressure to push the ball away on the side of the penalty area. The loose ball was retrieved by Nana, who then attempted to send a low cross towards Zlatan. However, the ball bounced off the feet of a Liverpool player and into Mignolet's grateful hands.
Martin Tyler: Ohhh! Dejan Lovren unwittingly took a shot at his own goal, but it went straight at the goalkeeper.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"What does it take to score?" Sayuri asked out loud.
"I don't know what to say, Mom." Noriko replied.
"It really looks like this is Liverpool's day." Harry said.
"I hope not, Dad. Do you remember what happened when Andy Gray said those exact same words?" Robert asked.
"Aye. How can I forget that?"
"If there's a team that can do it, that is United." Noriko said before she switched to her own thoughts. 'But we need some luck as well, which we have been lacking so far.'
United clearly had momentum on their side. However, the home side was taking a big risk by pushing many players forward. Against a team that was built on counterattacking, every single mistake was a spark for serious danger.
In the 84th minute:
Martin Tyler: Matic... dispossessed by Mané.
As Nemanja tried to retrieve a loose ball, the tricky Sadio Mané made a clever play to steal the ball away just inside the Manchester United half. Liverpool's Senegalese winger then passed the ball a few yards back to Georginio Wijnaldum, who then passed it sideways to his German teammate, Emre Can.
Martin Tyler: Wijnaldum... Emre Can...
Emre sprinted several yards to lead the counterattack before he flicked a pass towards Takumi, who then headed the ball towards his teammate James Milner on the edge of the Manchester United penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Emishi... Now Milner...
James Milner then passed the ball towards Emre Can in what appeared to be a good shooting position. However, the German midfielder chose to make a one-touch pass towards Sadio on the left for a one-timer of a strike.
Martin Tyler: Good football... Mané! Straight at Sergio Romero!
Sergio punched the ball as the shot went straight at him. However, Wijnaldum quickly came in to head the ball back into the penalty area. The header then became a dangerous pass to Takumi.
Martin Tyler: Wijnaldum comes in... back to Emishi! No flag!
Having beaten the offside trap, Takumi came up facing Sergio in a 1v1 situation. United's Argentine quickly rushed towards Takumi, but the Japanese took a quick shot past the goalkeeper. For an agonizing split second, the whole crowd at Old Trafford held its collective breath. And then...
Martin Tyler: So close! Into the side netting. If that went in, it would have been game over for Manchester United.
Having seen the ball strike the side netting, Takumi could only put his hands on his head. He was unable to believe that he missed a glorious opportunity to finish off his opponent. Nevertheless, Takumi's teammates came quickly to not worry too much about it.
Meanwhile among the Manchester United players on the pitch:
"That was too close for comfort." Kakeru said.
"I know. We almost screwed up there." Pog replied.
"Don't lose focus! Keep attacking!" Matthias reminded his teammates in midfield and on the attack of the job to be done.
"Get it together, guys!" Zlatan added to the rally cry.
Kakeru then looked at Nana on the opposite wing. The Little Witch nodded in response, meaning that she was also ready to give all for an equalizing goal.
'Time is running out, but we can do this. No! We must do this.' Kakeru thought.
United continued looking for any gap to be exploited, but Liverpool continued defending their one-goal lead with real gallantry. In order to solidify his team's defensive line, the Liverpool manager made his final substitution in the 85th minute by replacing Nathaniel Clyne with the younger and taller Joe Gomez. Knowing that a major FA Cup upset was within touching distance, the Liverpool players gathered around their own penalty area for a final test of concentration and discipline.
In the 88th minute:
Martin Tyler: Köhler... passes ahead to Aizawa.
The ball was retrieved at the center circle by Matthias, who then passed the ball ahead to Kakeru. Despite a heavy presence of Liverpool shirts in the area, the Japanese forward managed to dribble his way past 2 Liverpool players before attempting a quick give-and-go with Pog. However, Liverpool defender Joe Gomez stood in the way.
Martin Tyler: Free kick for Manchester United. It will be a yellow card for Joe Gomez.
Worse news for Liverpool was the conceding of an indirect free kick a few yards away from their own penalty area. Players from both teams moved into their assigned positions. Marking Kakeru was Takumi though.
"I'm sticking with you, Aizawa." Takumi said.
"You will make a big mistake." Kakeru replied.
"We'll see about that."
Martin Tyler: We're in the 89th minute. Mishima with the free kick.
Nana then kicked the ball towards the mass of players inside the Liverpool penalty area. With a perfectly timed jump, Zlatan got his head on the ball first before redirecting it with power towards the goal.
Martin Tyler: Ibrahimović! Off the bar...
The Liverpool goalkeeper barely got a touch on the ball, but the ball then bounced off the crossbar and on the goal line. It was an agonizing moment for the 69,000+ Manchester United supporters as the ball was still bouncing on the goal line without crossing it.
"It's mine!" Kakeru shouted.
"No, you don't!" Takumi replied.
Kakeru and Takumi both raced towards the same ball with opposite intentions. At the very crucial split second though, the stronger and faster Kakeru got his the tip of his boot on the ball before Takumi could get there. As both players felt onto the ground after a rough contact, Kakeru saw the ball in the back of the net. Old Trafford finally celebrated the long-awaited goal.
Martin Tyler: And AIZAWA!!! Aizawa got the last touch! With less than 2 minutes to go, Manchester United are back on terms; it is 2-2!
"Take the ball to the restart! Let's go!" Kakeru picked up the ball, and gave it to a teammate.
"Well done, Kakeru!" Nana gave Kakeru a quick high five handshake.
"Thanks." Kakeru replied before he took a few seconds to pump the crowd up even more. "COME ON!!!"
Meanwhile in the stands:
"WELL DONE, KAKERU!" Noriko shouted.
"Well played, lad! Well played!" Harry added.
"I would gladly take a replay now even if that's not ideal." Robert said.
"Kakeru and Nana won't settle for a replay yet. Mourinho is pushing the players to go for more." Noriko replied.
Martin Tyler: Well, 'replay' is not a concept that José Mourinho particularly likes.
If the match was to end in a tie, United would have to travel to Anfield on the evening of Wednesday February 7. For the Manchester United players, the last thing they needed was another fixture being added in a congested schedule, especially a tough away fixture. The home side were looking to score another goal. However, Liverpool moved on the attack right after the restart.
Martin Tyler: Mané... the cross is deflected behind by Bailly. It's a Liverpool corner.
Both teams moved into positions for the corner kick. At that moment, the clock reached the full 90 minutes. The 4th official then indicated the amount of added time on his electronic board.
Alan Keegan: The referee has indicated a minimum of 4 minutes of added time.
The crowd inside Old Trafford was getting edgy after the announcement about added time was made. When James Milner was allowed to proceed with the corner kick, he launched a ball that was aimed towards the pack of players. A Liverpool player reached the ball first, and the upcoming goal-bound shot forced Zlatan to get himself into the trajectory.
Martin Tyler: It was Matip who headed the ball goalwards. Ibrahimović defended it.
The ball then bounced out of play on the side, giving way for a Liverpool throw-in. Alberto Moreno threw the ball in for Sadio Mané, who then passed the ball backwards to Georginio Wijnaldum. But when Winjaldum attempted to pass forward to Sadio, the ball went too far ahead. As a result, Eric Bailly intercepted the ball for Manchester United.
Martin Tyler: Intercepted. Now, it's Matić... to Blind.
Expecting an attack, the 69,000+ Manchester United supporters roared. Nemanja passed the ball to Daley, who then returned the pass a couple of seconds later. The Serbian then ran a few yards ahead until he reached the center circle. At the same time, most of the Liverpool players were pulling back into defensive positions.
Martin Tyler: Matić... Pogba...
Across the halfway line, Pog started a series of pass-and-move plays with Zlatan on the way towards the Liverpool penalty area. The crowd roared even louder at each yard gained forward.
Martin Tyler: Towards Ibrahimović... to Pogba... back to Ibrahimović...
When Zlatan arrived just insde the penalty area, a Liverpool poked the ball away. However Pog recovered the ball just outside the box. For a split second, it appeared that there was no way to go as several Liverpool players were closing down on him. Kakeru and Romelu appealed for a pass, but they were both covered as well.
Martin Tyler: Still Pogba...
"J'suis là! (I'm here!)" Nana shouted and waved her arms up.
Nana was squeezing her way between 2 Liverpool defenders, and entered the Liverpool penalty area from the right wing. At the crucial split second, Pog launched a perfect through pass into Nana's run. Old Trafford held its collective breath.
Martin Tyler: Lovely pass... It's MISHIMAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
With calm and total control, Nana rifled the shot in the top corner past the Liverpool goalkeeper to send Old Trafford into total bedlam.
Martin Tyler: MANCHESTER UNITED LEAD IN STOPPAGE TIME!! Liverpool cannot believe it! United were on the way out of the FA Cup a few minutes ago, but they are now on the verge of winning the match!
Running several yards to celebrate her goal, Nana only thought of one place to celebrate: right where Noriko and her family were located in the front row. Within seconds, Nana jumped into the arms of her friend Noriko.
"You did it, Nana. What a goal!" Noriko exclaimed as she hugged Nana.
"YEEAAAHHH!!! Great goal, girl!" Robert also exclaimed.
Several spectators tapped Nana's head and shoulders in the celebrations. In the following seconds, Kakeru and the other Manchester United teammates crowded around Nana to celebrate as well.
"You did, Seven! Well done!" Kakeru said before Nana turned to embrace him.
"Tu les as eus! (You got them!)" Pog added.
"YATTAAAAA (I DID IT)!!!" Nana screamed.
Alan Keegan: UNITED'S GOAL... SCORED BY NUMBER SEVEN... NANA MISHIMAAAA!
After the official goal announcement, the home supporters started singing Nana's song by tens of thousands to praise her vital contribution. The referee gave Nana a yellow card for excessive celebration with the crowd, but she didn't mind one bit. A minute after the restart, José replaced Romelu with Ander in order to protect the lead. Nevertheless, Liverpool attempted one final attack.
In the dying seconds of injury time:
Martin Tyler: Matip... on the wing to Milner...
Liverpool tried attacking from the wing through James Milner, but Daley and Pog denied entry on that side. The veteran Englishman was forced to pass the ball backwards to his captain in central midfield.
Martin Tyler: Henderson... he finds Emishi.
Jordan Henderson passed the ball into Takumi's run. Liverpool's Japanese striker then dribbled past a Manchester United player. As Takumi was about to enter the penalty area, Kakeru surprised everyone by running shoulder-to-shoulder with Takumi.
"I will stop you here!" Kakeru said.
"What?" Takumi was the most surprised of all.
At the right time, Kakeru, the former Knight of Enoshima, swept the ball away from Takumi's feet before the former Assassin of Yoin Academy went to the ground after the contact. The Liverpool players asked for a foul, but the referee gave nothing.
Martin Tyler: Good challenge by Aizawa on Emishi!
Kakeru then passed the ball towards Pog, who carried the ball across the halfway line. Finally, the sound of deliverance came up.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Martin Tyler: It's Manchester United, incredibly, in the fifth round. But for some time, it looked as though this would be Liverpool's day. Twice Takumi Emishi put Liverpool into the lead, but Kakeru Aizawa answered back twice. And then along came Nana Mishima with the winning goal in stoppage time. Seven wins in a row in all competitions, and this is one to savour if you're a Manchester United fan. The final score: Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool.
The Manchester United player celebrated for a few moments as the 69,000+ home supporters gave their team the loudest cheers of the season that far. After the celebrations, players from both teams shook hands sportingly.
"Good game, Emishi." Kakeru shook hands with Takumi.
"Yeah. Good game, Aizawa."
"You gave us quite a hard time. Good game." Nana shook hands with Takumi.
"We may be finished in the Cup, but I really look forward to our rematch in the League. Knight, Little Witch... On March 4, we'll be ready." Takumi said.
"Well, we will also be ready in March. See you then." Kakeru finished.
Both teams finally walked their way off the pitch. When Kakeru and Nana got inside the exit tunnel, they were greeted by their friend Yusuke.
"Well done, you guys! You did it!" Yusuke hugged both of his friends.
"Thanks, Yusuke! I'm really happy that we got through after everything that happened." Kakeru said.
"Hey, Nana. How do you feel after that goal?" Yusuke asked.
"Electrified." Nana replied, which got everyone laughing. "It's even bigger than those late winning goals I scored against City. I'm still buzzing."
"Well, it's great for you. Today's goal is another one added to your own legend." Yusuke said. "Will you join Noriko and me later?"
"Yep! But first, I'll grab a slice of pizza, and have my share of hot and icy baths for my muscles." Kakeru replied
"Yeah, me too. I need that contrast bath therapy badly now even if I don't like it." Nana added.
"So, do we say the usual place at 6:30 PM?" Yusuke asked.
"Sounds perfect." Kakeru replied while Nana nodded in agreement.
"Good. See you later." Yusuke replied before he let his friends walk on their way to the dressing room. Yusuke then dialed Noriko's phone number.
"Hi, Yusuke. Got some news?" Noriko asked.
"We're good for Sapporo Teppanyaki, Noriko. I'll make the reservation for the 4 of us."
"That's great! When we beat Liverpool, we always have a big celebration among Mancs."
"We still have half of the afternoon and a full evening to do just that." Yusuke said. In fact, it was barely 2:30 PM at the time.
"And after that, you'll be mine. I have a Saturday night surprise waiting for you." Noriko spoke with a seductive tone.
"Oh... I love surprises." Yusuke finished with a big grin on his face.