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Chapter 13: Setback, Keeping Hope Alive

Sunday May 19, 201X

78th minute

"Mark number 15; he's gonna shoot!" Kakeru warned as the ball from the corner was shot towards Ricky at the edge of the box.

"Got him!" Shinji replied as he heeded the warning.

As Ricky took a one-timer shot, Shinji blocked the shot and the ball bounced back. Unfortunately, for Shinji, the follow through motion of Ricky's kick scraped his thigh and the play continued.

Martin Tyler: Vernardi's shot was blocked by Kagawa. The ball's retrieved by Clichy...

Gaël quickly kicked the long ball, which missed Edin but bounced towards the far post for Yaya. Despite being in position to shoot, Yaya missed his kick on the bouncing ball and the shot went sideways in mid-air towards the other side of the goal, back for Edin despite the presence of many defending red shirts. In a single movement, Edin struck a volley shot towards the goal.

Martin Tyler: It's Dzeko! Cleared off the line!

Having seen the danger, Kakeru went back on his goal line to defend and he apparently stopped Edin's shot on the line in mid-air with his right foot. Then Kakeru fell into the back of the net. However, the ball bounced back to Yaya at the edge of the 6-yard box and City's Ivorian midfielder shot the ball again before it was stopped on the line by Nemanja.

Martin Tyler: Yaya Touré! Cleared off the line again!

Everything seemed to be safe for United before the referee suddenly blew his whistle and pointed towards the center of the field.

Gary Neville: It's a goal! It's given, Martin.

Martin Tyler: Goal given! It's 3-3!

Gary Neville: The linesman's running away. He's given it. The flag went up ages ago. He was off and running. I think it's Dzeko who scored.

In the middle of the confusion, everyone involved with Manchester United was still asking each other what just happened. Meanwhile, the Manchester City players ran off celebrating the last goal scored in front of the group of 3,000 City supporters in the Southeast corner of the stadium. As the TV replay was shown in all broadcasts played all around the world, Edin's volley was stopped by Kakeru’s intervention... but the ball already crossed the goal line by 3 inches and the linesman immediately gave the goal to City's Bosnian striker. Despite protests and pleas from a few United players, nothing changed the decision.

Suddenly, it was dead silence and absolute consternation among the millions of Manchester United supporters in all 4 corners of the world, from Manchester to Japan. With only 12 minutes of normal time to go, the task of scoring 2 goals to win the title seemed as hard as climbing Mount Everest.

Still shell-shocked from conceding a goal after he thought to have saved it, Kakeru looked around and seemed lost in thoughts for a few seconds. Suddenly, he saw that Shinji was still down on the ground holding his thigh.

"Kagawa-senpai!" Kakeru shouted before he dashed to attend him while his teammates shouted at the bench asking for medical attention.

"Rob! Steve! Shinji needs help out there. Go!" Sir Alex ordered both the chief physiotherapist and the club doctor to come onto the field.

Meanwhile, Shinji was obviously in pain as he didn't stop holding his thigh since that contact with Ricky. To make things worse, Shinji was bleeding from that wound on his thigh and that meant he would not be able to carry any longer.

"Let me see it, Kagawa-senpai. What happened?" Kakeru asked.

"Vernardi got me with his studs in the follow through. A freak accident, damn it!" Shinji replied as he showed Kakeru the injury. "How does it look?"

"It looks like a gash to the thigh. The ligaments above the knee don't seem to be hit, but there could be some muscle damage." Kakeru replied while the team doctor came to examine the injured Shinji.

A little further away, Ricky was looking coldly at what was going on and didn't seem to show any concern about the injury. After Kakeru quickly explained the situation for Steve in English, the club doctor made a sign asking for the stretcher to come on.

"OK, we'll take it from here and make the stitching work at the infirmary." Dr. Steve said.

"Sorry for letting you down now, Kakeru." Shinji said.

"Don't worry, Kagawa-senpai. This isn't over yet." Kakeru replied.

At the same time, the coaches started discussing among themselves about who to bring on for the injured Shinji. With a squad already depleted by injuries, deciding on who would come on wasn’t easy.

"It would be better to bring Danny on and send him on the left. Giggsy would play deep in midfield while Wazza would go in the hole behind Robin." Mike, Sir Alex's assistant manager, proposed.

"If we play Giggsy deep in midfield, City will overrun the midfield. He doesn't have the pace nor stamina to face Touré and Barry." René replied.

"Then what do you suggest? Playing Giggsy in the hole is not a safe bet either." Mike asked, but René couldn't answer.

"Let's play Nana in Shinji's position. The setup would still remain the same for the front 4 while Wayne continues his good job in central midfield.” Sir Alex said.

"Are you sure about this, Boss? She won't stand a chance against City's defense." Mike replied in total confusion. René was also not convinced by the suggestion.

"The Boss and I saw her progress recently. She plays 90 minutes with the Reserves. I know she can take this for 12, 15 or even 20 minutes. I guarantee you that she can do it. Danny's a good lad, but we need a new playmaker with quick feet and coolness in shooting positions." Paul added to Sir Alex's suggestion.

"I talked about this with Scholesy. I'll live and die by this decision." Sir Alex finished the discussion before he turned towards the young Japanese woman who was still warming up: "Nana, get ready. You're going on."

Suddenly, Nana's mind echoed the words she wanted so much to hear from Sir Alex; everything she worked for finally led to this day. After she took off her track jacket and pants, she went to United's technical area waiting for the signal. As expected, the crowd was buzzing when they saw Nana coming by the touchline in full kit.

Martin Tyler: Well, this is rather a very bold move by Sir Alex Ferguson, but I don't think he has much of a choice. Nana Mishima will be United's third and final substitution.

Gary Neville: If you're watching this wherever you are, don't try to adjust your monitor. This is a moment of history happening now, folks: the first woman in history to play in an official match in professional men's football.

Martin Tyler: It's a privilege for all of us to witness the unique moment this young woman is about to live.

"This is your chance to prove your worth. Remember your training and then everything will be fine. Now go!" Paul gave his last words of encouragement before he gave a tap on her shoulder. At the same time, the 4th official put up the numbers on his electronic board after Shinji was stretchered off the field in the 81st minute.

Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 26, Shinji Kagawa... number 32, Nana Mishima.

Meanwhile in Yokohama, the Enoshima alumni and a few Japanese United fans applauded the substitution. However for some locals and for the British expatriates, it was total confusion as they didn't know who just came on for United.

"Who the hell is this?" a middle-aged English expatriate asked to his fellow countrymen.

Overwhelmed by the pride of finally seeing his daughter making it to the Premier League, M. Mishima said for himself audibly: "It's my daughter..."

As the Englishman understood what he just heard, he and his British friends turned their heads towards M. Mishima. "It's my girl, Nana! I'm her father!" M. Mishima shouted from his seat in English.

"Did someone promise you something if she scores or like?" the Englishman asked M. Mishima as well as the Enoshima alumni in Japanese.

"I promised to buy him a beer if she scores." Coach Iwaki replied.

"Put that on me, son. And if we win, I'll also buy extra pints for all of you." the Englishman said.

"Thanks, Mister." Coach Iwaki finished as he watched the screen.

Back on the pitch at Old Trafford, Nana joined the other players for a quick chat on tactics. "Glad you made it on for today." Kakeru said.

"Thanks, but keep that for later. We have instructions from the Boss." Nana replied.

"What’s the plan from the Gaffer, Nana?" Robin asked.

"He basically wants us to play the same way we did just before they scored. Wayne stays in midfield and the front 4, including myself, keep feet moving with one-touch passes if possible." Nana replied.

"OK, everyone. We all make sure there's always ball support for Nana. Keep providing passing options for her. Is that clear?" Ryan said.

"Let's do this!" Kakeru finished before everyone went to their positions for the restart.

Martin Tyler: Here we go with 9 minutes of normal time left. You must feel that City's 3rd goal has knocked the stuffing out of the fans.

As the play restarted, the ball went from Kakeru to Nana. Meanwhile, Gareth looked at the newcomer and knew what he wanted to do next. 'She doesn't look too tough. I'll greet her with my shoulder.' Gareth thought.

When Nana faced City's English midfielder, she didn't waste any time making a nifty move and pushed the ball forward in an attempt to get past him. However, Gareth used his full strength in a shoulder-to-shoulder contact and Nana was thrown off balance before she would get past him. The referee blew the whistle to call the foul against Gareth for obstruction on Nana. Furthermore, some pushing and shoving ensued between rivals after the incident.

"Away you go fellas! Away you go! Yes, please!" the referee ordered as he tried to stop the pushing. Then the referee turned to Gareth and showed him a yellow card. "Gareth! I already warned you a few times, but that's it. You’re in the book this time. No more of that."

Gareth didn't reply to the referee, but turned towards Nana with a smirk instead: "How about that? Welcome to the big league."

As Nana was getting back on her feet, anyone nearby could hear the young Japanese woman chuckling and it surprised everyone.

"What's so funny?" Gareth asked.

"Is that the best you can do, Gareth? I'm disappointed." Nana asked in reply with a smile.

Gareth then left the area frowning at Nana's surprising remark. Meanwhile, Kakeru went asking for her situation: "Are you OK, Seven? What makes you laugh about that challenge?"

"I was just gauging his strength. I tested him, Kakeru. He's not as strong as I expected him to be for a so-called bully." Nana replied, but Kakeru was left dumbfounded by her answer.

On the following free kick, the usual players moved forward attempting to deflect the ball for goal. On the signal, Wayne shot a long ball forward towards the pack of players inside City's box. On the descending trajectory, Kakeru managed to get to the ball first and deflected the ball ahead towards Nemanja.

Martin Tyler: In by Rooney... off Aizawa. It's Vidic!

Unfortunately for United's captain, Kakeru header of a pass bounced just in front of Nemanja, who couldn't get the right touch to have a good shot on goal. As a result, the shot just missed the goal by the post and it added more to the United supporters' despair at the time.

In the 84th minute, Michael intercepted a clearing attempt by City in the middle of the field and then passed the ball to Wayne, who then passed it to Nana working a little on the right side of the field at the time. At the time, Gareth came to challenge Nana physically again.

"Just give me the ball, you!" Gareth said.

Gareth pushed Nana's left shoulder with his stronger right shoulder. However, Nana stood her ground this time and then made a sudden turn to leave the English midfielder completely flatfooted.

'How did she do that? I sent her down to the ground a few minutes ago.' Gareth asked to himself as he was still baffled by Nana's stronger resistance to the challenge.

'She's taking that hit well and then loses him without losing her balance. That lower center of gravity helps too. In fact, she's much stronger than what she wanted to make City believe at first when she came on.' Ryan thought as he saw Nana's move in distance.

After Nana got free from Gareth's marking, she also surprised Ricky an elastico feint with the inside of her left foot to move past the Argentine central defender. Then she made a low pass across to her left towards Kakeru, who was running towards the left post. However, Matija cleared the ball at the very same time he used his left arm on Kakeru's head and pushed him to the ground, much to the crowd's displeasure as several shouts for a penalty were heard.

Martin Tyler: The roar was for Aizawa ending up on the deck. The referee says play on.

However, the ball was still in play as it rolled towards Ryan on the left flank. With a quick give-and-go with Patrice, Ryan moved the ball back towards the edge of the box. As the veteran Welshman spotted Nana drifting back in the middle and Kakeru standing a little ahead of her, the following play came quickly: a string of quick one-touch passes from Ryan to Nana and then forward to Kakeru. Suddenly, Kakeru escaped Matija's marking and faced City's goalkeeper.

Martin Tyler: Mishima picks the pass to Aizawa! He's in...

As Kakeru fired towards the net, Vincent came in and stuck his left foot into the ball's trajectory. As a result, the shot was deflected behind for a corner and it was another scoring chance gone for begging.

Martin Tyler: And it's a very important block!

Gary Neville: Well, it was a great pass by Mishima there and a great run by Aizawa. Watch this: Aizawa runs across Kompany, but the City skipper blocks the shot and the ball goes behind. Great defensive play there.

Despite the last opportunity that was missed, Wayne and Robin pumped up the crowd and asked them to make some noise as the team still needed that support. The crowd responded with a massive roar that went on for a moment.

Just over 3 minutes later, Manchester City were on the attack with good passing play. When Edin took the low shot despite the presence of both Rio and Nemanja, the ball rolled slowly towards United goalkeeper De Gea, who caught the ball with his hands. With time running down, De Gea kicked the ball down the field. Under Kakeru's pressure, Ricky headed the ball in the opposite direction towards Gareth. However, the pass was intercepted by Nana before it could reach City's English defensive midfielder.

Martin Tyler: Oh, Vernardi's pass was sloppy. Mishima, Rooney...

Nana's pass went to Wayne, who pushed forward to support the attack. Then Wayne ran a part of the wide line of City's 18-yard box towards the right wing. There was no opportunity for him to take a shot or make a through pass, so he passed the ball to Kakeru. The young Japanese forward tried to move towards the inside of the box. However, Kakeru was marked by Gaël and David Silva at the same time to deny any entry.

"Kakeru!" a voice shouted behind him.

In a flash, Kakeru recognized the voice and made a pass going by David Silva. The player who made the call was United's Brazilian right-back Rafael; he snuck behind City's Spanish winger for a fraction of a second. Realizing the danger of Rafael going for a solid shot from just outside the box, City's Silva turned his body and stuck his leg out to clip the Brazilian within a fraction of a second.

Martin Tyler: Rafael is clipped by David Silva. It's a free kick in a dangerous position here.

With no hesitation, the referee signaled the free kick from a dangerous position just 5 yards from the edge of City's box and with a good diagonal view of the right corner of the goal (on Joe's left). As expected, the referee gave David Silva a yellow card for the foul.

Gary Neville: Silva gets booked. He sticks his leg out to stop Rafael from going into a shooting position. He won't argue too much about it.

Martin Tyler: It's a very good chance for Manchester United to keep their hopes alive, but who is going to take it? Will it be Wayne Rooney? Or will it be Robin van Persie, who scored a free kick from a similar position to win it at the Etihad Stadium in December?

Meanwhile, Robin, Wayne, Kakeru and Nana gathered together to discuss about the free kick strategy. The discussion took a few seconds, but the chosen strategy came from one of the patterns they practiced in the previous day on the training ground.

"You're sure about this?" Wayne asked.

"Yes. We must hit them from where they expect the least." Kakeru replied.

"I don't think they will see that coming, Kakeru. But the timing has to be perfect." Robin said.

"I know. Wazza, send your best pass. I'll take care of the next part." Kakeru instructed Wayne.

"OK, lad. It's all yours on my pass." Wayne replied in agreement.

As the players moved to their positions, the setup went as followed: Nemanja, Rio, Patrice, Michael and Ryan were part of the group attacking through middle of the box. Meanwhile, Nana moved at some distance behind the pack; Kakeru stood around 10 yards to the left from the ball's position; Wayne moved around 7 yards diagonally behind the ball with the goal in his line of sight; and Robin moved himself 5 yards on the right of the ball. Meanwhile, City had Ricky, Edin and Gareth from left to right in the 3-man wall.

Finally, the referee blew his whistle for the free kick to be taken and the 5 United players in the pack started moving forward.

Martin Tyler: Van Persie... with the dummy.

As Robin made his run, he went over the ball and made a quick right 90-degree turn towards the inside of the box. At the same time, Wayne seemingly went to shoot it, but he made a layoff pass towards Kakeru on the left.

Martin Tyler: Rooney for Aizawa...

Realizing that it was a trick, Ricky left the wall and joined Carlos in an attempt to stop Kakeru from shooting. Kakeru still looked dangerous because he displayed his long range shooting ability on the previously disallowed goal.

'Now!' Kakeru thought.

As Kakeru seemed to be about to shoot, he let the ball it slide between his legs and further to the left. Kakeru's dummy surprised both Carlos and Ricky. At the same time, the receiver of Wayne's ground pass was revealed to be none other than the unmarked Nana.

The young Japanese woman started her run far behind the group of attacking players a little earlier and then cut her run at 45 degrees to the right to give herself some momentum. When Nana arrived into position for a one-timer, she saw the gap between a few City players, leaned her body to her left and finally struck the ball in full strength with her right foot. As everyone at United already saw it in training, Nana's shot was flying fast.

Martin Tyler: It's MISHIMAAAAAA!!!

The original shot seemed to fly towards the middle of the goal, but the ball then took a strong curl towards the right. Surprised by the shot bending across the face of goal, Joe made a desperate attempt to extend his left arm towards the ball, but the shot flew out of his reach and hit inside the top corner of the goal.

Jumping out of their seats altogether, an explosion of cheers came from the 72,500 United supporters at Old Trafford as hope was kept alive, thanks to Nana's scorcher of a senior debut goal.

Martin Tyler: WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT? Nana Mishima's screamer keeps the hope alive! The red side of Manchester is now leading 4-3 with 2 minutes plus stoppages to go!

Again, time was paramount for Manchester United and a quick restart was needed. Hence, Nana ran immediately to pick the ball up in the back of the net. However, Ricky got there first and held the ball in his arms.

"Give away the ball, Vernardi." Kakeru said.

"Stop fooling around and give us the ball!" Nana added to the previous request as she plunged her hands in to grab the ball away from Ricky. However, the Argentine defender still held on to the ball. In front of Nana's persistence, Ricky freed his right hand and used it to shove Nana in the face. When Nana fell to the ground, the response was immediate.

"HEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYY!!!" the Manchester United supporters in the stadium shouted in unison.

"Son of a bitch!" Kakeru immediately pushed Ricky away with a hard two-handed shove high on the Argentine’s chest.

Out of balance for a split second, Ricky got back up and tried to take Kakeru into a fight. However, Ricky never expected someone much bigger and scarier than Kakeru to arrive within the next second; it was United's skipper Nemanja who immediately came grabbing Ricky by the collar.

"Pick on someone of your size, говнар (govnar/shithead)!" Nemanja shouted at Ricky.

Gary Neville: If the referee saw that, Vernardi's off.

Quickly scared off by the Serbian captain in red, Ricky dropped the ball. Within a couple of seconds, rivals from both teams gathered around, pushing and shoving each other. From the original tussling, Carlos also went in there to push Nemanja away from Ricky, but Wayne and Rafael also went in trying to get a piece of Ricky before Rio pulled his angry teammates away from the scrimmage in order to avoid wasting precious time.

"You OK, Seven?" Kakeru asked.

"Yeah, but he's gonna answer for that." Nana replied as Kakeru pulled her back up on her feet before they went ahead to exchange harsh words in Japanese with Ricky although Ryan stood in to hold both Japanese youngsters.

"Piss off, Doll! You have no business on a football pitch with men!" Ricky shouted while Vincent was pulling him away.

"Football would be better off without you, cabrón sexista (sexist bastard)!" Nana replied angrily.

"I'll make sure you leave the pitch crying by the end of the game, meathead!" Kakeru also replied at Ricky's comments.

Then the referee came to dish disciplinary measures for the pushing and shoving. At the same time, the crowd was shouting for a red card to be shown at Ricky. When the referee pulled the card out of his pocket, boos and groans of disappointment were heard as the punishment against Ricky was only a yellow card.

Meanwhile on the touchline, the 4th official remained calm and said nothing despite Sir Alex lashing out his anger on him after the controversial decision. "What the bloody hell was that? How did the ref miss the shove and not give him a red card? Are you all blind or what? This is bollocks!"

Martin Tyler: Goodness me! The referee only gives a yellow to Vernardi.

Gary Neville: I just can't believe it, Martin. There was clearly a hand in the face and a shove by Vernardi. Refusing to give the ball back was worth a yellow, but that push in the face was worth a straight red in itself. That's really poor by the referee.

In the stands:

"HOW COULD YOU MISS THAT, YOU BLIND WANKER?!" Noriko shouted in full anger.


"How can that caveman shove my girl down and get away with it?" Mrs. Mishima asked in disbelief.

"This referee is either a corrupt idiot or a coward." Sayuri replied.

Taeko, Mai and the Aizawas joined the boo-birds who aimed their anger towards the referee. At the very same time in Yokohama, the same shouts of anger and disbelief were also heard from the supporters in the pub.

"What the hell was that? Get that clown off the pitch, ref!" M. Mishima shouted as he was obviously the angriest man around in the pub after what he saw on the big screen.

"The referee's gutless! He should be fired for that." Ayaka said.

"How Shuukyu managed to tolerate Vernardi, that is beyond me. He has always been a crazy and dirty player despite all of his talent." Coach Iwaki remarked.

"Aye. This Muppet should be nowhere near a football pitch if he keeps such a behavior." the middle-aged English expatriate added.

Regarding other disciplinary measures, Carlos received the other yellow card for City while Nemanja and Kakeru both received yellow cards for their muscled interventions in the scrimmage on United's side. Since the incident began, the crowd didn't stop booing the referee. Meanwhile, City's manager proceeded with his final substitution.

Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester City: replacing number 21, David Silva... number 14, Javi Garcia.

Pulling out a purely attacking player, City brought on a defensive midfielder hoping to have enough players to shut down United's attacks for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, some City players were also angry at Ricky for what he did a little earlier.

"What the hell was that for?" Vincent asked Ricky.

"¿Estás loco? (Are you out of your mind?)" Pablo also asked his fellow countryman in Spanish.

"I just did my job by holding on to the ball." Ricky replied as if he didn't care about the turmoil he created.

"We could have gone down to 10 men because of your behavior. You wanna go home or what?" Gareth asked.

"Hey! It's not my fault if I can't stand a woman who's forcing me like that. She has no business on this pitch." Ricky tried to defend himself again.

"Just shut up! Shut your mouth! It's the second time we have to cover your ass after an incident today. The next time you act like this on your own, you’ll spend the rest of your time at the club on the bench. It's now zero tolerance with your antics, you got that?" Vincent interrupted and reprimanded Ricky. "Say the words, Ricky!"

"I got it." Ricky replied halfheartedly.

After all the turmoil, the game finally restarted late in the last minute of normal time. After everything that happened with the 6 substitutions, Shinji's injury and the recent tussling after the last goal, several minutes of injury time were expected and the stadium's public address announcer finally announced it out loud when the 4th official held up his electronic board.

Alan Keegan: The referee has indicated a minimum of 7 minutes of added time.

'Seven minutes left. We can do this! I know we can!' Kakeru and Nana thought at the same time.

This is where all the drama is about to be played.

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