Prologue - A Dream
"Life... It can be difficult. You know that. We all need someone to rely on... Someone who's going to be there... Someone who's going to make you feel like you belong... Someone constant. It's ecstasy, anguish, joy, and despair. It's part of our history, part of our country, and it will be part of our future. It's theatre, art, war, and love. It should be predictable... but never is. It's a feeling that can't be explained, but we spend our lives explaining it. It's our religion. We do not apologize for it, we do not deny it. They're our team, our family, and our life... Football."
– Sean Bean (Actor and football fan, 1997).
Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France
UEFA Champions League final
May 26, 201X
It was a nice evening in the Paris metropolitan area up to that point as the sun was going down on the Western horizon. The night was promising to be as nice as the day was. The streets of Paris were mostly empty as the large majority of people were watching the biggest club football match of all, the Champions League final. For the hosting stadium in the North of Paris, the event started with an excellent choreographic display on the pitch for the opening ceremony
Clive Tyldesley: Welcome to Paris. Over 81,000 here at the Stade de France this evening. It really is an extraordinary atmosphere.
Following the ceremony, both sets of supporters, located on opposite ends of the stadium, raised their cards up to create giant fan-made card stunts (tifos) as messages of encouragement for their respective teams. Finally, both teams came out of the players' tunnel under thunderous applause, and walked by the much desired European Champion Clubs' Cup without touching it for superstitious reasons. Kakeru Aizawa was among the starters for Manchester United while Nana "Seven" Mishima followed among the substitutes to begin the match, No matter what was about to happen, it was about to be the biggest night of their club career to this day.
Clive Tyldesley: But you do wonder: is Fate now taking a hand in Manchester United's destiny? They have made their own luck with their boldness and their adventure. But they've had just enough luck to stand here on the brink of history once more. It's a chance of a lifetime.
However, the game didn't go exactly as planned as the opposition took the lead early on, and dominated large spells of the final itself. As desperation grew stronger for Manchester United with a 1-2 deficit late into stoppage time of the second half, the team from the Northwest of England launched several attacks in attempt to take the game back on equal terms before the final whistle.
Clive Tyldesley: We're in the final minute of stoppage time now. Desperation for Manchester United.
With the ball intercepted deep in United's own half, the players in red started what could possibly be the final attack of the match. United's French winger Anthony Martial took the ball forward before he passed to Nana in the middle, then back to Anthony in the give-and-go. Suddenly, the Frenchman saw a player in red waving his hand up ahead of him.
"Over here!" Kakeru shouted.
"Come on, Knight!" Anthony shouted in reply.
The pass rolled from Anthony to Kakeru, who then pushed forward as he saw a small gap between 2 defenders. However, the opposition's Brazilian centre-back ran back, and stood in front of Kakeru on the edge of the box.
"Você não vai passar (You won't pass)."
Suddenly, Kakeru spotted a fellow red shirt running by his right, and made a quick back heel pass to that player.
Clive Tyldesley: Aizawa with the laying off...
That player was none other than Nana; she saw the gap from her position. Transported by momentum and by the element of surprise, Nana was running towards the goal. Caught off guard, the opposition's French left-back stuck his right leg out to take away the ball from her, but never touched it. As a result, Nana was tripped.
Clive Tyldesley: It's Mishima, SHE'S BROUGHT DOWN!
In total unison, anyone playing for, working for, and supporting Manchester United shouted for a penalty with their arms in the air when they saw that the point of contact was inside the box. As Kakeru turned to see the referee's gesture, he saw the decision: the referee immediately pointed towards the 12-yard spot. It was massive satisfaction for the players wearing red.
Clive Tyldesley: SHE'S GIVEN A PENALTY! Nana Mishima has earned a penalty!
Inside the stadium, the thousands of Manchester United supporters jumped off their seats cheering loudly. At the same time, Kakeru ran straight to Nana, and gave her a double high-five to congratulate her. Some of the United players congratulated Nana as well. On the other end of the spectrum of emotions, the player who committed the foul was waving his hands in the air utterly outraged.
"Non, non! C’est quoi ce bordel? (No, no! What the hell was that?)"
"Tu l’as fauchée dans la surface. C'était une faute claire et nette (You brought her down in the box. It was a clear-cut foul)." the referee said as he showed the culprit a yellow card.
Then the penalized player's teammate, and team captain, came in to protest: "Comment ça, penalty? C'est n’importe quoi! (How's that a penalty? That's ridiculous!)."
"Calme-toi, tu perds ton temps. Recule maintenant si tu ne veux pas prendre un carton (Calm down, you're wasting your time. Step back now if you don't want to take a card)." the referee replied.
Despite all the protests and appeals from other players, the referee remained frosty. He simply ordered everyone but Kakeru and the opposing goalkeeper to clear the area for the penalty kick to be taken. Meanwhile, Kakeru picked up the ball and put it on the penalty spot.
Clive Tyldesley: A yellow card has been given for the foul. Now, it's the Japanese international who's on the ball. Stepping up is Kakeru Aizawa with a chance to equalize for Manchester United in the last seconds of added time, and to force extra time.
Having taken a few steps back, Kakeru mentally blanked himself out from all the surrounding distractions to focus on where to shoot the ball. It was a battle of wits between him and the goalkeeper. Finally, the referee moved back, and gave the signal for the kick to proceed.
Kakeru made his run, and struck the ball hard. The ball sliced towards the goalkeeper's right, but the pace on the shot was too much for the goalkeeper to reach it. Without a doubt, Kakeru's shot hit the back of the net. Suddenly, thousands of United supporters behind the goal erupted into an explosion of noise.
Clive Tyldesley: AIZAWA HAS TIED IT!! Manchester United are now on terms! Yes, on terms on the night at 2-2! They are still in the European Cup.
"All right, I did it!" Kakeru shouted in celebration.
Kakeru ran up a few steps with the finger pointed to the sky typical of his usual celebration before he was caught up by Nana. Both fell one on top of the other on the ground. Within the following seconds, their teammates joined them, and jumped altogether into a man pile in celebration. Once again, the little Japanese striker saved his team with a late goal as he did so many times before, whether it was about winning matches or getting the team back into the game.
Meanwhile, the players of the other team looked dejected after conceding the equalizer only seconds away from winning the Champions League. A few seconds later, those players picked themselves up back in position for the restart. However, neither team had the time to do anything else after the ball was kicked for the restart.
Upon the whistle signaling the end of the second half, the majority of cheers came from the thousands of Manchester United supporters and the few neutrals who were enjoying the game so far in the stadium.
Clive Tyldesley: That was the last action of the 90 minutes, but there is gonna be plenty more to come thanks to a late penalty by Kakeru Aizawa for Manchester United. He's kept them in the Champions League, and we now have 30 extra minutes to play. If it's still tied after that, we will go to penalties.
During the small break before the beginning of extra time, players of both teams took a moment to relax and re-energize with energy drinks.
"Ready for 30 more minutes, Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"Always, Seven. I could not have done this without you once again."
"Thanks, it was a great pass. However, it's time to wake up now." Nana said.
Suddenly, the words "wake up" echoed stronger in Kakeru's head, and everything became blurry to him. He realized that nothing of this was really happening in truth.
When Kakeru woke up in his bed, he noticed that Nana was already sitting beside him with a smile on her face. She was wearing a silky satin nightgown.
"Hey, Kakeru. Finally awake?" Nana asked.
"Since we are engaged, you don't need to call me that way anymore except when on the pitch. We agreed on that a while ago. Besides, you can’t call me that forever. Remember?" Nana said.
"Old habits die hard, I guess." Kakeru replied as he cuddled with Nana a little.
"It's all right."
"It's going to be another nice summer day from the looks of it." Kakeru said as he noticed morning sunlight and clear skies outside the bedroom's window. "I just made quite some dream."
"What did you dream about?" Nana asked.
"We were playing in the Champions League final in the Stade de France, in Paris against a team I couldn't recognize. There was the ceremony, walking by the European Cup, tifos, crowd cheering... well, the whole thing. We were down by a goal late in the game, only seconds away from the final whistle." Kakeru replied.
"What happened then?"
"I made a clever pass to you to fool the defender. As you were almost in the clear to shoot, another defender tripped you inside the area, and gave away a penalty." Kakeru said.
"Then you scored the penalty?" Nana asked.
"Yep. It was the last action of normal time. That's when I woke up."
"The Stade de France... I would love to play there, especially in the Champions League. Isn't that the venue for next season's final?" Nana asked.
"It is. That's probably why I had a dream of it." Kakeru replied.
"Thinking of the Champions League, this will be the first time we can enjoy it as active participants."
"So often, I’ve seen it as a spectator either from afar or inside Old Trafford. The Europa League was not too bad when we became regulars, but I can’t wait to face the best teams out there." Kakeru said.
"Do you remember the promise the guys made back in May for us? 'We will do everything to win the big trophies as our wedding gift before you get married' they said."
"That's why we keep ourselves working on the training ground to be fit although we're still in the summer. We will do everything it takes so we can all make this promise become a reality, Nana." Kakeru said before he gave Nana a kiss.
"That's the big goal. However, we have a day ahead of us to take on first." Nana replied as she got up from the bed. "Are you in for a shower?"
"I'm in." Kakeru replied with a big grin.
It was the beginning of another normal day in early July, a day far from anything related to the action of the big football leagues for Kakeru and Nana... or so it seemed to be.