The Italian Job - Part 1
"We always said 'We have to beat an Italian side' in those days to win the Champions League." – Denis Irwin (Former Manchester United player, 1990-2002).
"For Man United education wise, Juve were the model for us, the teams of [Marcello] Lippi. They were the best, they gave us some beatings and our great moment in beating them 1999 was the progress was wanted to make. Juventus was the model for that." – Sir Alex Ferguson.
"Everybody wrote us off because nobody went to Juventus and won." – Denis Irwin on the build-up to the 2nd leg of the 1999 Champions League semi-final.
In the second half of the 1990s, Juventus were the strongest side in Italy and the benchmark in Europe. The first UEFA Champions League encounter between Manchester United and Juventus took place in 1996 with the latter being defending champions at the time. Between 1996 and 2003, the two sides played a total of 8 official matches in the Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson saw "La Vecchia Signora" (The Old Lady) as the model team to follow and overcome when his own young United team started showing promise on the European front.
Since the middle of the 2000s, things have considerably changed for both clubs and their respective domestic leagues. Although the Italian Serie A is no longer considered the very dominant and demanding football league of yesteryears, Juventus still stands as the most powerful club in Italy. Although Juve have not won the Champions League since 1996, their recent experience as runners-up in 2015 and 2017 makes them a tough opponent for anybody. And just as in the past, Manchester United and Juventus were set to cross swords again.
Tuesday February 20
West Didsbury, Manchester, UK
7:00 PM GMT
In that evening, the door bell rang at the apartment where Noriko lived.
"Coming!" Noriko said. She was already dressed with the black Manchester United shirt that bore Yusuke's surname and number in the back.
Then Noriko opened the door. Sarah was there.
"Hello, Noriko!" Sarah greeted her friend with a hug.
"Hello! Nice to see you. Come in!" Noriko replied.
Sarah entered the apartment. After she left her shoes and hung her coat, the British blonde checked on her smartphone for the starting lineups. She was wearing her replica of the 1999 red Manchester United shirt as well.
"Did you see the lineups?" Sarah asked.
"Yep! I would not have done anything different." Noriko replied.
"Don't you think that playing Yusuke and Matić together might be too defensive?"
"On paper, it looks very defensive. However, Yusuke has the skill set he needs to play a slightly different role if necessary. And besides, that's the only way we can hope to win a midfield battle against them." Noriko replied to Sarah.
"I would have liked Nana to start tonight though."
"Against Blaise Matuidi? Not a good idea, Sarah." Noriko said. "If Yusuke wears Matuidi down, then Nana can come on to finish the job."
"We're in for a tough test, anyway." Sarah said.
"I have seen United getting results in Turin before, and I know this team can do it again. If we attack them the right way, we can get a good result before the second leg in 3 weeks' time." Noriko replied.
"Let's all hope so." Sarah finished.
Juventus vs. Manchester United (UEFA Champions League round of 16, 1st leg)
Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
8:37 PM Italy time (7:37 PM GMT)
Opened in September 2011, the Juventus Stadium was built on the site of the club's former home, the Stadio delle Alpi (Stadium of the Alps). Despite the change in scenery, the Italian giants enjoyed an excellent home record in all competitions in that stadium, which coincided with their rise back to the top of Italian football after a march in the desert for 5 seasons following the 2006 Italian football scandal.
José entrusted the task of breaching the impregnable fortress to the following 11 starters for the Red Devils: David de Gea (goalkeeper), Antonio Valencia (right-back and acting captain), Eric Bailly (centre-back), Matthias Köhler (centre-back), Luke Shaw (left-back), Nemanja Matić (central midfielder), Yusuke Saeki (central midfielder), Paul Pogba (central midfielder), Kakeru Aizawa (right winger), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Alexis Sánchez (left winger). José was relying on Alexis' experience, versatility, and workrate to counter Paulo Dybala head on.
Meanwhile, the following players were send to start the match for "I Bianconeri" (the White-Blacks): Gianluigi Buffon (goalkeeper and captain), Mattia De Sciglio (right-back), Mehdi Benatia (centre-back), Giorgio Chiellini (centre-back), Kwadwo Asamoah (left-back), Sami Khedira (central midfielder), Miralem Pjanić (central midfielder), Blaise Matuidi (central midfielder), Paulo Dybala (right winger), Gonzalo Higuaín (striker), and Douglas Costa (left winger).
The Manchester United field players were wearing red shirts, black shorts, and black socks. Meanwhile, the Juventus field players had their classic black and white striped shirts, completed by white shorts and white socks. Unlike English clubs, Italian clubs showcase the domestic cup winners’ patch and/or the little shield (scudetto) that honours the Italian league winners from the previous season. As for Juventus, winners of both the Serie A and the Coppa Italia in the previous season, their kits displayed both decorations even though the Champions League was an UEFA-sanctioned competition.
Before the players were given the OK to follow the referee out of the players' tunnel, most of them stood without saying a word. Pog was the only one talking to the other side since most Juventus players were his teammates until the summer of 2016, the transfer window in which he was transferred to Manchester United. At the very same time the official anthem of Juventus started to play inside the stadium, Kakeru and Yusuke had a little chat between them.
"Feel a little jittery?" Kakeru asked.
"I'm excited... in a good way." Yusuke replied. "I grew up watching those Champions League matches when big clubs start eliminating each other all the way to the final. It feels like I've been training all my life for nights like this."
"If that reassure you, it's my first time in the round of 16 in this competition. It will also be the first time for Nana if she comes on tonight." Kakeru said.
"At least, you played in the Europa League all the way to win it. So you have valuable European experience for a match like tonight." Yusuke replied.
"Don't worry. When that first whistle is blown, it is just another day at the office." Kakeru finished and gave a friendly tap on Yusuke's shoulder.
Meanwhile inside the stadium, the majority of Juventus supporters were holding or waving their scarves proudly. Juventus supporters located at both ends of the pitch were waving black-white striped flags. The vast majority of the 41,000+ spectators were singing the club anthem, entering the final 2 stanzas.
JUVE, STORIA DI UN GRANDE AMORE (JUVE, STORY OF A GREAT LOVE)
BIANCO CHE ABBRACCIA IL NERO (WHITE THAT EMBRACES THE BLACK)
TORO CHE SI ALZA DAVVERO (BULL THAT REALLY STANDS UP)
JUVE PER SEMPRE SARÀ (JUVE WILL BE FOREVER)
JUVE, STORIA DI UN GRANDE AMORE (JUVE, STORY OF A GREAT LOVE)
BIANCO CHE ABBRACCIA IL NERO (WHITE THAT EMBRACES THE BLACK)
TORO CHE SI ALZA DAVVERO (BULL THAT REALLY STANDS UP)
JUVE PER SEMPRE SARÀ (JUVE WILL BE FOREVER)
JUVE PER SEMPRE SARÀ (JUVE WILL BE FOREVER)
JUVENTUS PER SEMPRE SARÀ (JUVENTUS WILL BE FOREVER)
As the song ended, both teams walked out of the tunnel under raucous cheers from the very partisan crowd. Fitting with Italian tradition, the crowd displayed a massive card stunt (tifo) that covered the whole stadium but for the away supporters' section. On the Tribuna Est (East Stand), the words "PRIDE OF ITALY" were displayed. On the opposite Tribuna Ovest (West Stand), giant stripes of black and white were displayed. In the end known as the Curva Nord, the card stunt displayed a giant Italian flag. And in the opposite end known as the Curva Sud, the same giant Italian flag pattern was displayed only with the shape of the European Cup on top of it.
From the moment both teams and the referees lined up in the assigned pre-game positions, the traditional UEFA Champions League anthem was played. The Juventus touch at the end of that anthem was that the crowd roared "THE CHAMPIONS" loudly. Then both teams shook hands before the referee proceeded with the coin toss.
Clive Tyldesley: The last time Manchester United faced Juventus, it was in 2003. Ryan Giggs scored twice on the night, and Ruud van Nistelrooy completed the 3-0 scoreline for Sir Alex Ferguson's team over Marcello Lippi's side at the Stadio delle Alpi. Only one survivor from that night in Turin: Gianluigi Buffon. The former Italian international feels this could be his last chance to have a shot at winning the European Cup after being on the losing end in the 2003, 2015, and 2017 finals. You can be certain that he will give it all tonight.
Following the coin toss, Juventus took the opportunity to kick the match off. Both teams moved into their respective positions. The crowd roared, wanting the match to start. Finally, the referee blew his whistle.
Clive Tyldesley: And we are under way in Turin!
The match started with Juventus applying pressure on the Manchester United players quite early on. The visitors were trying to weather the storm as part of their game plan, but it was a huge task against such a dangerous side. Soon enough, Juventus earned the first serious scoring chance.
In the 4th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: A little too far away for Higuaín. Köhler takes it...
A pass intended for the Juventus striker went a little too far ahead. Although Matthias was in a position to retrieve the ball, Gonzalo hustled towards him. As a result, Matthias made a rare mistake when his attempted clearance went straight to a Juventus player inside the Manchester United half.
Clive Tyldesley: Not quite cleared! It's Khedira... to Pjanić
The loose ball went straight to Sami Khedira, who then passed the ball to Miralem Pjanić. Pog and Nemanja tried to close the Bosnian in white and black down, but the latter surprised both Manchester United midfielders with a flick pass towards the advancing Blaise Matuidi. Then Matuidi flicked the ball with the chest into Douglas Costa's run. Matthias tried to stop Sami from shooting, but the Juventus midfielder had an open shooting lane.
Clive Tyldesley: Good pass to Matuidi... to Douglas Costa...
The Brazilian winger took his shot, but the attempt was scuffed. As a result, David had no problem picking up the ball.
Clive Tyldesley: ...who scuffed his shot. Easy save for David de Gea.
Although David made the save, the last attack just showed how the Juventus midfielders can get involved in the attack if the forwards are not quite in a position to do so.
"Sorry. I let Matuidi run behind me." Yusuke apologized.
"Keep your eyes on him at all times. He will try to run past you, so stand in front of him." Matthias said to his younger teammate.
The play continued in the other direction, but the tone was set with Juventus looking to attack Manchester United early on. With the momentum on their side, the Bianconeri kept on pressing the Red Devils hard. Not too long after Douglas Costa's missed opportunity, Juventus launched another dangerous attack.
In the 7th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: It goes off Higuaín to Douglas Costa.
In a run of play, a Juventus goal kick flew down the pitch. Gonzalo Higuaín jumped in the air to meet the ball before Nemanja does. The following flick of the ball went to Douglas Costa, who then burst his way past Antonio. The Brazilian was dashing towards the Manchester United penalty area.
Clive Tyldesley: He burst his way past Valencia... Douglas Costa can go all the way.
As Douglas Costa entered the penalty area in full speed, only Eric stood in the way by matching speed. With a perfect timing, Eric tackled the ball away from Douglas Costa before the latter could get any closer to goal.
Clive Tyldesley: What a tackle by Eric Bailly! It's a corner for Juventus.
Everyone in red moved into defensive positions, but Juventus sent their big guys – Chiellini, Higuaín, Benatia, and Khedira – in the penalty area. Miralem Pjanić was ready to take the corner kick on the referee's whistle.
Clive Tyldesley: Pjanić will take the corner.
The Bosnian whipped the ball towards the Manchester United penalty area, but the ball appeared to swirl away from goal at the far post. However, Giorgio Chiellini escaped Pog's man-marking momentarily. The big Italian defender only needed that split second to give a good header of a shot.
Clive Tyldesley: CHIELLINI! Good save!
David de Gea stopped the shot at full stretched, but the rebound was within range for Gonzalo Higuaín to strike. The Argentine striker appeared to have the Spanish goalkeeper at his mercy, but David took a slide to make a kick save a very short split second after the shot was taken.
Clive Tyldesley: Oh, it's HIGUAÍN! FANTASTIC SAVE BY DE GEA!
The second rebound bounced out of bounds on the side. David stayed frosty after the save, but Matthias was not impressed at the way Pog let Chiellini go free.
"Pog, come on! Stick on him like glue!" Matthias reprimanded the Frenchman, who responded with an apologetic gesture.
Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:
"Thank goodness that we have David, but we are making it too easy." Nana said.
"You're right: we look too nervous out there." Michael replied.
"What we need is to play tighter out there." Jesse added.
"I know, Jess. We can hope to weather the storm, but that's not a good way to start a match against Juve." Nana said.
"If we can hold them out of dangerous positions a little longer, then we can start building on something." Michael replied. "We only need the away goal while keeping them away as much as possible."
"I hope you're right, Carras." Nana finished.
However, Juventus kept on pushing even harder. The Manchester United players tried to slow things down as much as they could when they got the ball, but the Juventus players were quick to recover the ball before other attacks are launched. The visitors were holding onto the 0-0 scoreline, but they were still on the back foot.
In the 13th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Chiellini... to Matuidi...
Blaise Matuidi received the pass from his teammate around half-way into the Manchester United half. After making a 180-degree turn, Matuidi ran with the ball towards the penalty area. However, Yusuke rushed at full speed to cut his path.
"I'm not letting you!" Yusuke said.
Knowing he would not make it further ahead, Matuidi made a short pass on his right to Paulo Dybala. The versatile Argentine attacker, who escaped Alexis' man-marking, slotted himself in an open space where he was ready to shoot. Nemanja tried to get in front of the shot, but he was a split second late when Dybala took the shot.
Clive Tyldesley: Matuidi... passes it to DYBALA!!!
Paulo Dybala's left-footed strike was struck with ferocity, out of David's reach, onto the post, and into the back of the net. In a flash, the vast majority inside Juventus Stadium went on their feet.
Clive Tyldesley: Paulo Dybala strikes first for Juventus! The man who scored here twice in the Champions League quarterfinals last season has scored against Manchester United with a thumping strike.
Dybala ran some distance to celebrate his goal while making his trademark "Dybala Mask" celebration before he was mobbed by his ecstatic teammates. At the other end of the pitch, Gianluigi Buffon was as expressive as ever in his own celebration. As the Juventus supporters in the stadium celebrated, the sound of thousands of cheers and the sound of drums from the Chelsea Dagger song made way for the voice of the Italian PA announcer, Marco Dejana, asking the crowd to shout the name of the goal scorer.
Marco Dejana: JUVENTUS... A SEGNATO DAL NUMERO DIECI (SCORED BY NUMBER TEN), PAULO!!!
Juventus supporters: DYBALA!!!
Marco Dejana: PAULO!!!
Juventus supporters: DYBALA!!!
Marco Dejana: PAULOOO!!!
Juventus supporters: DYBALAAA!!!
After the announcement, the well-known onomatopoeia chorus of Chelsea Dagger was played loudly through the speakers as it has become customary for a few years now.
As the Juventus players made their way back towards their own half, The Manchester United players were still looking at each other in disbelief. However, Romelu and Yusuke tried to get their teammates' focus back on the job to do.
"Come on, lads! Let's pick it up!" Romelu clapped his hands.
"We knew it was going to be a battle! This ain't over!" Yusuke added to the rally cry.
"The kid is right. Let's go!" Matthias also added.
"YEAH!" the other Manchester United players replied.
'Just give us, forwards, something to work with. We'll go for goal if you give us the ball.' Kakeru thought.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"(Sigh) We screwed up big time there." Noriko said.
"All we did so far is to sit back. We should have taken their approach at them much earlier than that." Sarah replied. "We need to throw the kitchen sink at them."
"Still early for that, but we need to feed Kakeru, Sánchez, and Lukaku with the ball regardless." Noriko said.
"While we talk about them, they barely touched the ball after 13 minutes. That's a problem."
"Old habits die hard, even with Italian sides nowadays." Noriko said.
"What do you mean?" Sarah asked.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Juventus would now sit back on the ready for counterattacks, Sarah. Italian sides always do that, so we just need to be cleverer when we go forward."
"I hope you're right. After all, you have seen a lot more football than I ever did." Sarah said.
"We have 77 minutes left to score at least one without conceding too many in return." Noriko finished.
The early goal stung the Red Devils, but it also had the effect of a wake-up call in a way. Following the goal, Manchester United started controlling the ball a little better while Juventus were content to sit and wait for opportunities to hit back on the counterattack. From there, the football match became a game of chess that is a characteristic of the Italian style. And like chess, it only took one good chance to take a shot that would plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the very partisan Italian crowd.
In the 24th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Bailly... Saeki... finds Pogba on his left...
Moving the action inside the Juventus half, Yusuke took the pass from Eric. With Matuidi facing him, the Japanese midfielder passed the ball towards Pog. The Frenchman then moved a few yards ahead before he passed the ball to Alexis on the edge of the Juventus penalty area.
Clive Tyldesley: Now to Alexis Sánchez...
When Alexis received the ball, he had Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia standing in the way. Thus, Alexis chose hold onto the ball until Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanić both rushed towards him. Nevertheless, the Chilean in red dribbled his way back and between the 2 Juventus midfielders to find a better option. Then Alexis saw Romelu running at the same level as the last Juventus defender; it was an invitation that did not need begging for the following play.
Clive Tyldesley: That's a clever ball for Lukaku!
Alexis unleashed a floating aerial ball towards Romelu, who took the free header shot. However, the shot was blocked by the goalkeper Buffon. The loose rebound was not far away from Kakeru, but Chiellini was there to kick the ball away and out of bounds.
Clive Tyldesley: Great save by Buffon! Cleared away by Chiellini.
The Juventus supporters stood up to applaud their legendary goalkeeper. At the other end of the spectrum of emotions, the Manchester United players, coaches, and supporters could only look in disbelief. Nevertheless, Kakeru felt the urge to cheer his teammates up.
"Let's go! We're getting there!" Kakeru shouted.
"Good pass, Niño!" Romelu gave a thumbs-up sign to Alexis.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"Bloody hell, Lukaku! You have to score that!" Noriko shouted out loud.
"He couldn't ask for a better pass. Sánchez split the defenders with that ball." Sarah said.
"Put that a foot to the left or to the right of Buffon, that was a sure goal."
"it took us 24 minutes to get our first chance on goal. What we need to do now is to keep bringing the action inside their half."
"Spot on, Sarah. As long as we keep the ball inside the Juventus half, we will have more chances. That was how to beat them." Noriko said.
The Red Devils continued to bring most of the action inside the Juventus half. The team from Manchester were looking to build up some momentum, hoping to score the crucial away goal that all teams search in any match of the Champions League knockout stages. However, Juventus were an experienced side that knows how to take advantage of a short moment when their opponents lack concentration.
In the 30th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Now Yusuke Saeki...
Yusuke had again full control of the ball inside the Juventus half. He then looked around for passing options ahead of him, and saw Romelu in a position to slip in-between the Juventus defenders. The Japanese midfielder threaded a very accurate through ball towards the big Belgian.
Clive Tyldesley: That's a very good pass. Here's Lukaku...
Romelu entered the penalty area when he moved past Mehdi Benatia. The big Belgian was about to take the shot, but Juventus right-back Mattia De Sciglio made a well-timed tackle to take the ball away before Medhi kicked it out.
Clive Tyldesley: A very important tackle by De Sciglio!
The ball then went to Gonzalo Higuain at half-way between the Juventus penalty area and the center circle. The Argentine striker passed the ball back to Pjanić, who then completed the give-and-go at the beginning of a counterattack. Eric came in to tackle the ball away, but the loose ball went towards Sami Khedira, who launched the pass towards Pjanić. Suddenly, Juventus had a 2v1 situation against Manchester United just across the halfway line.
Clive Tyldesley: Now there could be a problem. Gonzalo Higuaín...
Luke tried to keep pace with the Argentine striker, but the latter was able to make a pass sideways to his Bosnian teammate while the other Manchester United defenders desperately tried to rush back.
Clive Tyldesley: ...towards Pjanić. Manchester United are being undone here.
Pjanić tried to set Higuaín for a one-timer shot just inside the Manchester United penalty area. However, Matthias came sliding him to prevent a right-footed shot. Still, Higuaín took the ball on his left foot, but he had to deal with Yusuke's attempt to tackle the ball away. Nevertheless, the Argentine striker dragged the ball long enough to give himself a shooting angle and to take the shot. The entire crowd held its collective breath for a split second until the sound heard inside the stadium was mainly a big sigh of disappointment.
Clive Tyldesley: That was just wide of David de Gea's right-hand post. A let-off for Manchester United.
Higuaín's left-footed strike flew just wide to the post. Nobody among the Manchester United players said anything as they knew about how lucky they were.
Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:
"That was too close for comfort." Nana said.
"Aye. We were a little too aggressive, and we almost got punished for that." Michael replied. "The Boss has every right to shout right now."
From his own technical area, José was indeed voicing out to his players what he didn't like.
"Now that we are where we are, we should not stop attacking." Nana said.
"We just need our back 4 to hold the line unlike that last play. After that, we can continue controlling the ball inside their half." Michael replied.
"Except for a shaky start and that last moment, we are starting to grasp that Italian game of chess." Nana finished.
Despite that slight lapse of concentration, the Red Devils carried on with the approach they had taken ever since they conceded the first goal of the match. In the following minutes, the Manchester United players took a few shots that went wide to the target. Nevertheless, the Juventus supporters were starting to feel tense as they saw their team mostly camped in their own half.
In the 37th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Köhler... Saeki. He skips past Matuidi...
As Yusuke received the pas from Matthias, the Japanese midfielder dribbled his way past Blaise Matuidi before moving a few yards ahead. A few Manchester United players started moving into spaces, and Kakeru was moving in behind the Juventus left-back.
"Yusuke!" Kakeru shouted.
"Kakeru!" Yusuke launched a deep ball towards Kakeru.
Clive Tyldesley: A pass towards Aizawa, who skips past Asamoah...
Kakeru entered the Juventus penalty area, angling a position to make a pass. The upcoming pass rolled across the penalty area, went behind Romelu, but was perfectly placed for Alexis to take a shot. However, Gianluigi Buffon moved across with perfect timing to parry the ball out of danger and out of bounds.
Clive Tyldesley: Good save, Buffon! It is a corner.
The whole Manchester United bench fell back into their chairs when they saw Buffon successfully making a save. Meanwhile, the players in red on the pitch were shocked that they got robbed once again.
"Good try! Good try!" Kakeru cheered Alexis up.
"Good pass. We'll have him next time." Alexis replied.
The following corner kick created no danger on the Juventus goal as Buffon caught the ball in the air. However, that did not stop United from pushing harder and harder. The Red Devils only had one thing in mind: keep knocking at the door before it opens. A few minutes later, Manchester United had another chance to breach the Italian wall that was Gianluigi Buffon.
In the 40th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Here's Pogba... can't shake off De Sciglio.
Attacking on the left wing, Pog tried to run with the ball deeper inside the Juventus half. However, Mattia De Sciglio stepped up and forced Pog to retreat a few yards back. The Frenchman then passed the ball towards Nemanja in the middle of the park.
Clive Tyldesley: Matić... Sánchez...
Nemanja then passed to Alexis, who then squeaked a pass through a couple of Juventus players to reach Romelu just outside of the penalty area. However, Giorgio Chiellini put a foot it to kick the ball away.
Clive Tyldesley: Lukaku... dispossessed. It's back to Matić...
Nemanja retrieved the loose ball before he passed it ahead to Alexis again. The Chilean then saw Kakeru taking a position inside the penalty area although Kwadwo Asamoah was marking the Japanese forward. Nevertheless, Alexis made the pass to Kakeru.
Clive Tyldesley: Sánchez... Aizawa...
Then Kakeru surprised everyone when he flicked the ball into Romelu's run. Chiellini tried to stop Romelu, but the big Belgian stood strong long enough to shift the ball onto his stronger left foot and then shoot at point blank. This time, Buffon could not stop the attack.
Clive Tyldesley: It's LUKAKU! Away goal for Manchester United! With 5 minutes left to the first half of the first leg, Romelu Lukaku has scored a vital goal that could be worth twice its weight.
On the pitch as on the bench, all Manchester United players jubilated. Romelu celebrated his goal, but he then pointed towards Kakeru in acknowledgement for the flick pass.
"Big goal, Big Rom!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"Thanks! Great pass, Knight." Romelu replied.
"We have the goal. Well done, lads!" Nemanja said.
"Well done, well done. Let's go at them for more." Matthias added.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"YEAH! Well done, United!" Noriko exclaimed.
"That bit between Sánchez, Kakeru, and Lukaku was Barcelona-like." Sarah said.
"Quick passes into small spaces. That's even more surprising when you think about how tough Juventus are at the back." Noriko replied.
"With the away goal scored, what do you think United will do?" Sarah asked.
"If we have a chance, I say we go forward to score another one. However, the most important thing to do now is to stop Juventus from scoring. Why? Because you can be sure the Italians are now feeling the urgency." Noriko replied.
"Well, let's finish off the first half with at least a 1-1 tie." Sarah finished.
The Red Devils held their ground to end the first half on equal terms. At the other end, the Bianconeri knew that a 1-1 scoreline was not advantageous for them should the score remain intact by the end of the night because the goal that is scored by an away team counts twice the weight of a goal scored by the home team should the result end in a draw. Juventus were already plotting to come back stronger in the second half.
In the Manchester United dressing room:
"Recover well, lads. Take a few moments." José said to his players.
"We're fine, guys. We're doing good." Matthias said to all of his teammates.
José left his players alone for 5 minutes before he came in to give his players the halftime speech.
"Just a few things here. We started really slowly, so we gave them too much space to work. The most important thing for us is to be more aggressive in defense. I don't mean aggressive so you get booked, but just make sure you're there. We need to play tighter when we don't have the ball. A lot of their attacks start in midfield, so Pog and Yusuke need to push up against Pjanić and Matuidi. When we go on the attack inside their half, I want Luke and Antonio to move up a little more to support actions on the wings. Kakeru and Alexis, you keep running behind their full-backs. Rom, keep moving into the gap between Benatia and Chiellini. Be clever, keep talking to each other, stick our game into them, and stay calm. Got it? Let's go!"
The Manchester United players responded with an applause before they prepared themselves for the upcoming half.
"Let's run at them even more. Come on!" Kakeru rallied his teammates.
"Spot on, Knight. Let's show them what we can do." Matthias added.
"Just keep the focus out there." Nana said.
"Make sure you're ready to come on, Seven." Kakeru said to Nana.
"I will. I can't wait to go out there if I can." Nana replied before she walked her way out of the dressing room to warm up with her fellow substitutes.
The Manchester United players later came out of the dressing room focused on the task at hand, but so were the Juventus players. The soldiers of the Old Lady of Italy were not willing to end the night without a lead to take in Manchester. Right from the start of the second half, Juve started launching attacks in a similar manner as in the early stages of the first half.
In the 47th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Chiellini... he has found Higuaín.
Starting from within his own half, Giorgio Chiellini made a long ground pass towards Gonzalo Higuaín, who played a little far away from the Manchester United penalty area to receive the ball. Yusuke and Pog attempted to close the Argentine striker down, but the latter found a way to pass the ball onto the wing. There, Douglas Costa charged with the ball on the wing while Paulo Dybala was running into the middle.
Clive Tyldesley: Flicked into Douglas Costa... Dybala is running into the center...
Douglas Costa made a couple of feints to draw the nearest Manchester United defender out of position. The Brazilian winger spotted his teammate Kwadwo Asamoah supporting the attack, and then attempted a pass towards him inside the Manchester United penalty area. However, Matthias slightly deflected the pass, forcing Asamoah to show his back to goal when he received the ball.
Clive Tyldesley: It goes off Köhler... Now Asamoah...
The Juventus left-back made a pass backwards to Miralem Pjanić, who stood right on the edge of the penalty area. Without any hesitation, the Bosnian took a hard shot towards the goal.
Clive Tyldesley: ...tees up Pjanić! OH! Very good save by De Gea!
The shot was parried away by the Manchester United goalkeeper and away from danger. The Juventus supporters inside the stadium groaned in disbelief when they saw their team denied. However, there was a collective sigh of relief from everyone associated with United.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"What a save! What a save!" Noriko exclaimed.
"I'm glad we have Dave Saves in goal." Sarah said.
"Yeah, but that is a dangerous game we're playing at. Juventus are trying to do the same thing they did in the first half." Noriko replied.
"We have to watch out for danger at all times, especially early in any half against those guys."
"We just need to play more aggressively on the defensive part of the game. Then we can attack them." Noriko finished.
After that early scare, José Mourinho's men in red started playing a more aggressive and tighter defensive game against the Juventus players, especially the midfielders. The battle for dominance in midfield brought its lot of hard contacts and tackles from both sides. Little did anybody know that one clash would actually change the way the match would later be played for one side.
In the 58th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Douglas Costa with the run... gets caught up by Aizawa.
Douglas Costa started an attack with the ball. However, Kakeru hustled back to tackle the ball away just as the Juventus player crossed the halfway line. The loose ball was rolling towards Blaise Matuidi, but Yusuke came to meet him with a full-blooded sliding tackle. Matuidi was sent flying by Yusuke.
Clive Tyldesley: Strong challenge by Saeki on Matuidi. Referee says play on...
Much to the anger of the thousands of Juventus supporters in the stadium, the referee deemed that Yusuke's tackle touched the ball well before the player. As a result, the play continued with Nemanja retrieving the ball and then passing it to Alexis on the right wing.
Clive Tyldesley: Here's Sánchez.
Alexis ran with the ball inside the Juventus half until he arrived within distance of the penalty area. The Chilean winger came up facing Kwadwo Asamoah. Alexis feinted going towards the byline, but then made one step in the opposite direction to create some space to cross the ball. Romelu, who slipped in-between Mehdi Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini, twisted his body to unleash the volley shot.
Clive Tyldesley: Good cross to Lukaku! Great save by Buffon!
In a reflex move, Gianluigi Buffon stretched his arm in mid-air to deflect the shot out of bounds. The end result was a corner kick for Manchester United. However, the referee blew his whistle a few times to gather everyone's attention as Blaise Matuidi was hurt. The Juventus midfielder was down on the pitch, holding his ankle as the result of an awkward landing that followed Yusuke's tackle.
Clive Tyldesley: Matuidi got hurt on the play. This could be a serious blow to Juventus.
Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:
"Nana!" José called over from the group of substitutes warming up on the touchlines.
"I will wait a few minutes to see what the Juventus coach will do. But if Matuidi leaves the game, you will come on my signal. OK?"
"OK, Boss. I'll get ready when you say it." Nana replied.
"Finish warming up. Go!" José commanded.
Two minutes later, the Juventus doctor signaled the coach to replace the injured Blaise Matuidi with Italian midfielder Federico Bernardeschi. Although Bernardeschi is quite capable of holding his own, replicating the level of energy brought by Matuidi at both ends of the pitch was always going to be a tough task. Later in the 63rd minute, José responded by sending Nana on the pitch.
Clive Tyldesley: Nana Mishima will come on. Yusuke Saeki will make way.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"Yeah! Nana is coming on!" Sarah exclaimed.
"With now a young and less energetic midfielder as her opposite number, she should have space to manoeuver." Noriko said.
"I can't wait to see what she does." Sarah finished.
Back to Juventus Stadium:
"Good game, Yusuke." Nana said.
"Thanks. Go get them, Nana!" Yusuke replied as they gave the double high five to confirm the substitution.
Nana ran to her assigned position, ready for action. She then locked gazes with Kakeru at some distance.
'Glad you made it, Seven. Let's show them how we mean business.' Kakeru thought.
'Let's do this, Kakeru.' Nana thought.
After Nana's arrival in the match, it only took 2 minutes before her presence started to have an effect for the visitors. In the 65th minute of the match, the Little Witch gave Manchester United a great chance to move in front.
Clive Tyldesley: Here's Matić... He's looking for options.
Nemanja carried the ball inside the Juventus half for a few yards before he made the pass towards Nana, who feinted receiving the pass in one direction and then ran in the other direction. Nana ran past a Juventus midfielder before she made a pass forward to Pog.
Clive Tyldesley: Clever turn by Mishima. Now Pogba...
Pog almost ran through a gap between 2 Juventus defenders, but Giorgio Chiellini came in like a brick wall. Nevertheless, the referee blew his whistle to signal the impeding; it was a direct free kick for Manchester United.
Clive Tyldesley: He's fouled by Giorgio Chiellini. It's a free kick for Manchester United in a very interesting position.
"He only ran into me. Come on!" the Juventus defender pleaded his case to the referee, but to no avail.
Nana took the ball, and then she took as much time as she needed to place it as she wanted it. Meanwhile, a big wall of players was set inside the Juventus penalty area. After the setup was set, Nana was on her own with the ball ready to be struck on the referee's whistle.
Clive Tyldesley: Mishima takes...
Nana angled her run to strike the ball above the wall. Then the ball spun and dipped on its way towards the top corner of the goal. However, Gianluigi Buffon stretched his right arm to parry the ball away.
Clive Tyldesley: Great stop by Buffon! How important will that be at the end of the night?
Nana put her hands on her head in disbelief when she saw the ball flying out of danger. The shot appeared to be perfect, but Gianluigi Buffon thwarted another golden scoring opportunity.
"Good effort, Seven!" Kakeru cheered Nana up.
"Thanks, Kakeru. I was sure that was in." Nana said.
"Me too." Kakeru replied. "Let's keep on attacking."
"Right." Nana finished.
Meanwhile Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini had a little chat about what just happened.
"Bel salvataggio, Gigi (Nice save, Gigi)." Giorgio said.
"Quella donna ha un buon tiro (That woman has a good shot.)." Gianluigi replied.
"L'allenatore non ha mentito su di lei. È brava (The coach didn't lie about her. She is good)."
"Restare concentrato, Chiello (Stay focused, Chiello)." Gianluigi finished. Giorgio nodded.
At that moment, the Red Devils definitely had the momentum on their side. They were more confident in attacking against the Juventus goal a little more. The home supporters were feeling nervous as another Manchester United goal would definitely make thigs more difficult for the Juventus on the aggregate scoreline. Just a few minutes later, United launched another attack.
In the 69th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Köhler... finds Pogba ahead of him.
From within his own half, Matthias passed the ball across the halfway line to Pog. The Frenchman then made a long pass towards Nana on the right. However, she came up facing Federico Bernardeschi around 10 yards away from the Juventus penalty area.
Clive Tyldesley: Now to Mishima... Bernardeschi is in front of her...
Nana tried to look on her right for support, but Alexis was already marked by Kwadwo Asamoah. She quickly thought about her next move.
'Let's see if he's ready for this.' Nana thought.
Nana attempted to go at the right of Bernardeschi with a roulette, but then stopped her turn to swiftly spin the other direction. The Little Witch left the Italian midfielder flatfooted as she spun onto his left.
Clive Tyldesley: She goes past Bernardeschi...
"Witch Turn!" Noriko exclaimed as she saw the action unfold on the television in West Didsbury.
"She has some space." Sarah said.
Indeed, Nana completed the signature Witch Turn to move past Bernareschi and run deeper inside the Juventus half. Miralem Pjanić and Giorgio Chiellini scrambled to stop her, but she had space and time to attempt something. When she saw Kakeru making a run towards the far post (to Gianluigi Buffon's right), she immediately unleashed a long right-footed cross in that direction. Gianluigi Buffon and Mehdi Benatia ran into a position to stop any direct shot or volley as the shooting angle became more and more acute.
'No choice! I have to try this.' Kakeru thought.
Instead of attempting to touch the ball with his foot, Kakeru chose to make the contact on the ball with his head. Following the contact, the ball bounced off the very top of his forehead.
Clive Tyldesley: Good cross... AIZAWA!!!
The looping ball first appeared as if it was going to miss the net although it went above both Benatia and Buffon, but the spin effect after the bounce created a dip that led the ball towards the goal at the post opposite Kakeru's position. Chiellini attempted to make a desperate jump towards the ball, but missed the vital touch. The end result stunned the whole Juventus Stadium and anyone else watching the match from around the world.
Clive Tyldesley: YES! ABSOLUTELY SENSATIONAL BY AIZAWA! It went looping above Buffon and Chiellini into the top corner, and Kakeru Aizawa has scored a beauty! It has come at a wonderful for Manchester United! They lead 2-1 against Juventus, in Turin with a little more than 20 minutes to go!
The only noise that was heard in the stadium were the cheers coming from the enclave of away supporters and from the Manchester United players. On the pitch, Kakeru was quickly mobbed by his equally ecstatic teammates.
"YATTA! (I DID IT!)" Kakeru shouted out loud.
"Great goal, Kakeru!" Nana congratulated.
"Well done, Knight!" several Manchester United players added.
"Thanks, guys." Kakeru replied.
After a few celebrations, the Manchester United players walked their way towards the other side of the halfway line. On the way, Kakeru took a moment to congratulate Nana for her pass.
"That was a great Witch Turn before that pass, Seven."
"Thanks. You really found the only way to beat everyone there." Nana said.
"Just instinct. I didn't plan anything." Kakeru replied.
"That's why it's great." Nana finished.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"Great goal, Kakeru! GREAT GOAL!" Noriko exclaimed.
"That was incredible!" Sarah added as she hugged Noriko briefly.
"Incredible? That could be the goal of the season if nothing better comes up!"
"I didn't think Kakeru would make it when he headed that ball. The angle was almost impossible, and there were a few players in front of him too." Sarah said.
"That was probably the only way he could score." Noriko replied. "The only way he could score was to let the pass bounce off his head, above goalkeeper and defenders."
"Now that we have the lead, I really wonder how Juventus will react now."
"Juventus are not used to trail behind at home, but they will try to hit us back with everything they have. You can be sure of that, Sarah." Noriko finished.
By trailing behind on the scoreboard, Juventus were facing a situation they did not experience often in their home stadium. However, that Bianconeri side had more than enough firepower to retaliate. In the following minutes, the Juventus coach replaced Douglas Costa and Sami Khedira with Croatian forward Mario Mandžukić and Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado. The 2 new players were tasked to attack from the flanks while Paulo Dybala would focus his efforts as a central attacking midfielder. After the shock of conceding the second Manchester United goal went away, Juventus began to launch its entire force in the attack.
In the 77th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Long ball towards Mandžukić...
The Croat jumped to reach the ball just inside the Manchester United half, but could only do as much as to deflect it further ahead. There, Antonio tried to get control of the ball. However, Gonzalo Higuaín and Mario Mandžukić quickly closed down on the Manchester United right-back. After one slight toe poke by Mandžukić, Higuaín ran after the ball. Out of instinct, Antonio grabbed Higuaín while following him up to the two thirds of the pitch.
Clive Tyldesley: It's a free kick for Juventus. The referee reaches his pocket... it is a yellow card against Antonio Valencia.
Antonio made no furthest protest when the referee showed him the yellow card. Both teams then walked their way into positions around the front edge of the Manchester United penalty area. Meanwhile, Paulo Dybala was set to whip the ball inside the penalty area and into the pack of players.
Clive Tyldesley: Dybala will take the free kick.
From Manchester United's right flank, Dybala struck a curled ball with his left foot. With pinpoint accuracy, the ball flew towards Higuaín. The big Argentine striker slipped off Matthias' marking for a split second, and was in position to take a powerful header.
Clive Tyldesley: Good ball in... BRILLIANT SAVE BY DE GEA!!!
From point blank, Higuaín took a powerful header on target. Fortunately for United, David de Gea stretched his right arm to deflect the ball out of bounds. Although Juventus earned a corner kick, the outstanding reflex reaction drew utter disbelief from the whole crowd stadium.
"Good save, Big Dave!" Kakeru congratulated his goalkeeper a double high five.
"Thanks, but stay focused." David replied.
Ahead of the ensuing corner kick, Kakeru and Nana moved in to each guard each one of the 2 goalposts while David was setting up their other teammates in the defense of the upcoming corner kick. Miralem Pjanić was ready to take the kick.
Pjanić whipped a ball that appeared to curl away from the goal, but it was a trick as Higuaín ran a few yards backwards to get in a position to strike the ball. The Argentine struck the half-volley towards the goal. A split second later, Chiellini stuck his foot out to deflect the shot away from David de Gea, who already jumped in the wrong direction. However, something unexpected happened.
Clive Tyldesley: Higuáin... Chiellini! It's turned off the line by Mishima!
When everyone thought that Chiellini beat the Manchester United goalkeeper, Nana stuck the boot out to kick the ball away. When the ball landed outside of the penalty area, the nearest Manchester United player kicked it down the pitch and out of bounds.
Clive Tyldesley: Juventus centimeters away from tying the score... It was Gonzalo Higuaín again. He took the shot before Giorgio Chiellini deflected it. And there was Nana Mishima to clear it away. De Gea was beaten, Mishima was not.
Nana was quickly congratulated by her teammates.
"Well done, Seven! Nice save!" Kakeru said.
"Thanks, Kakeru!" Nana replied, giving Kakeru a double high five.
"Gracias, Brujita! (Thanks, Little Witch!)" David said.
"De nada (You're welcome)."
"Good thing you were there. Higuaín really gave me a tough time." Matthias said.
"Just keep your eyes open, Matthias. Let's do this." Nana replied.
After that couple of scoring chances by Juventus, Manchester United worked hard to soak as much of the pressure as they could without conceding a goal. To help with the situation, José replaced Alexis with Scottish midfielder Scott McTominay. As a result, Nana took offensive duties on the right flank although she was also tasked to fall back and help with the defending from the very moment Juventus have the ball. The Red Devils were set up to take advantage of the first mistake from the Bianconeri as the latter were sending more men forward, leaving up spaces behind.
In the 82nd minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Juventus have given up possession here. Matić... Pogba... finds Lukaku.
Following an interception by Nemanja, the Serbian midfielder in red passed the ball to Pog. Then the Frenchman passed the ball across the halfway line to Romelu. The Belgian striker led the counterattack before he passed the ball to Kakeru on the left flank.
Clive Tyldesley: Now Aizawa... Kakeru Aizawa...
Kakeru ran with the ball with enough pace to force Mattia De Sciglio into falling back. When Kakeru saw the Juventus right-back conceding some space on the inside, he immediately shifted his run and then unleashed the piledriver shot from outside the box. The Juventus goalkeeper was caught off guard by the ferocity of the shot, but...
Clive Tyldesley: OHH!!! He hits the crossbar!
The ball struck the crossbar and then bounced back on the edge of the penalty area. Nana took the rebound with only Kwadwo Asamoah standing in the way.
Clive Tyldesley: It comes back to Mishima...
Nana then shifted her run on the outside before she took a right-footed around the Juventus defender. However, the shot went off target and into the side-netting. Juventus escaped danger with only a goal kick.
Clive Tyldesley: Side-netting. Aizawa struck the woodwork; he was only a couple of inches away of sealing the match with a third goal. And then Mishima also had a chance, but she just missed the near post on her shot. Fine margins again.
"F***!" Nana cursed out loud.
"I don't believe this!" Kakeru exclaimed as well.
"It's OK, you two. Stay focused." Romelu cheered his 2 Japanese teammates up.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"What did we miss there?" Noriko asked out loud.
"Everyone was surprised by Kakeru's shot, even Buffon. We were unlucky on the first shot." Sarah replied.
"That's a real shame. With another goal, we would have taken a commanding lead into the second leg at Old Trafford."
"Hopefully, that should cool Juventus down for a moment." Sarah said.
"I'm knocking on wood there." Noriko finished.
Although Kakeru and Nana missed a glorious opportunity to put his team out of reach of Juventus for the match, the home side cooled down in their attacking attempts for a few minutes. Nevertheless, the sense of urgency kept on growing among the Juventus players and supporters as the clock kept ticking down. As full time moved ever closer, Juventus launched another attack.
In the 88th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Bernardeschi... Mandžukić...
Federico Bernardeschi ran with the ball for some distance while followed closely by Scott inside the Manchester United half. Then the Italian made a reverse pass to Mandžukić, who then passed the ball to Higuaín. The Argentine striker then ran in full speed and made a feint to shake Nemanja off.
Clive Tyldesley: Good pass to Higuaín. He's past Matić...
After he ran past Nemanja, Higuaín tried to move past both Manchester United centre-backs. Just as the Argentine entered the D on the edge of the penalty area, Matthias tackled the ball away. However, Paulo Dybala was loading a strike from outside the penalty area.
Clive Tyldesley: Cleared by Köhler, but only as far as Dybala…
Dybala struck the ball with ferocity just as he did earlier on his goal. The ball flew out of the Manchester United goalkeeper's reach, but the ball struck the inside of the post only to come back in the face of the goal. Gonzalo Higuaín tapped the rebound in the goal and sent Juventus Stadium erupting, but the linesman cut the celebrations short.
Clive Tyldesley: Off the post! Higuaín taps it in... He's offside! The flag is up, it won't count.
The Juventus supporters groaned in utter disappointment, but the replay proved the linesman right. Higuaín overstepped beyond the last defender after losing the ball to Matthias, and thus the Argentine striker found himself in an offside position when Dybala struck the shot. Again, Manchester United escaped with their lead intact again with some luck.
'We were lucky just there. Two inches to the inside, and that would have been a goal.' Kakeru thought.
'We need to hold on a little longer. If we can get out of here with a win, it would be a huge advantage to have in the second leg.' Nana also thought.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"Couldn't ask for finer margins than that." Noriko said.
"Yeah, Dybala almost did the same thing he did when he scored earlier. We need to defend tighter now. We can almost win it." Sarah replied.
"Just hang in there, lads." Noriko said.
Juventus were laying a siege inside the Manchester United half. The Red Devils were still holding on their one-goal lead, but they really had to work hard to get out of the stadium with it. Inside injury time, José made his final substitution by replacing Kakeru with the more versatile and energetic Jesse Lingard. However, Juve kept on attacking until the final whistle.
In the last minute of injury time:
Clive Tyldesley: It's Bernardeschi... to Mandžukić. Juventus are bringing men forward.
Leading the charge from the left flank inside the Manchester United half, Federico Bernardeschi passed the ball to his Croat teammate ahead. However, Mandžukić's path was denied by Antonio and several Manchester United players. Hence, the Croat was forced to pass the ball back towards Bernardeschi.
Clive Tyldesley: Back to Bernardeschi. Now Pjanić...
The Italian passed the ball to the Bosnian midfielder. Romelu and Pog tried to close down on the Juventus player, but the latter launched a long ball towards the far post on the right. Juan Cuadrado was in position to beat the Manchester United left-back for pace. The Colombian was in position to shoot on goal.
Clive Tyldesley: Good ball towards Cuadrado...
Having seen David moving into the way of a direct shot, Cuadrado made a pass in mid-air to his left and inside the 6-yard box. The Manchester United goalkeeper was left stranded as the ball was about to reach Paulo Dybala. Eric Bailly came in to prevent a goal, but he pushed Dybala down by doing so.
Clive Tyldesley: Was Dybala pushed?
The Juventus supporters rose up hands in the air altogether, screaming for penalty. The referee wasted no time to give the decision that sent Juventus Stadium erupting, a decision that no one associated with Manchester United wanted to see.
Clive Tyldesley: HE'S GIVEN A PENALTY! It's given against Eric Bailly! And Juventus have a chance to equalize from the spot at the very end of stoppage time!
"NO! COME ON, REF!" Kakeru shouted from the Manchester United bench.
"I don't believe this!" Yusuke exclaimed in disbelief.
The Manchester United players protested against the referees, but to no avail. In the stands as well as in front of TVs from around the world, the Manchester United supporters shouted and cursed against the referee's decision. They could not believe what just happened. When the players cleared the penalty area, only David stood between the goal and the shooter. However, Juventus sent their designated penalty taker, Gonzalo Higuaín, to take it. The Argentine striker wanted to make amends for the opportunities he missed earlier.
Clive Tyldesley: Gonzalo Higuaín, who has been denied twice by David de Gea and who has a goal disallowed because of an offside, has a chance to put both teams on terms at the very end of the first leg.
At last, the referee gave the order to proceed.
Clive Tyldesley: Higuaín...
Gonzalo Higuaín struck the right-footed shot with ferocity towards the bottom corner at the goalkeeper's right. However, David jumped in the right direction before he touched the ball with his outstretched arms. In the end, the shot was parried away by the Spanish goalkeeper.
Clive Tyldesley: DE GEA SAVED IT!!! AND MANCHESTER UNITED ARE STILL IN FRONT!
The rebound bounced to the side of the Manchester United penalty area, where Nana ran after the ball before she kicked it beyond the halfway line. When the ball entered the Juventus half of the pitch, the referee signaled the end of the match.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
"Well done, Big Dave!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"That was amazing, Dave!" Yusuke added.
Right after the final whistle, the Manchester United substitutes rushed on the pitch to celebrate with their teammates.
Clive Tyldesley: That was the last kick of the night! Manchester United have defeated Juventus in Turin. They have come back from behind to take a lead back to Manchester with 2 away goals in the bank. Paulo Dybala opened the score inside a quarter of an hour, but Romelu Lukaku and Kakeru Aizawa retaliated to give United the lead. Juventus were awarded a very late penalty, but David de Gea turned it away with a fantastic save. 2-1 winners on the night, it's Manchester United who have the advantage.
The Manchester United players quickly gathered to congratulate their Spanish goalkeeper. Jumping and whooping altogether, the Red Devils had the last word on the night. On the other hand, it was shock and dismay for the Juventus players and supporters who saw their almost impregnable fortress breached. It was a rare, and yet costly defeat for he men in white and black.
Meanwhile in West Didsbury:
"GREAT SAVE, BIG DAVE!!!" Noriko shouted.
"We won! We won!" Sarah exclaimed as she hugged Noriko.
"I know! Now we have both a lead and 2 away goals to take into Old Trafford in 3 weeks." Noriko replied.
"That means Juventus have to score at least 2 goals to hope something, right?"
"Yeah, but we played so well at home this season. I'm confident about us getting into the quarterfinals." Noriko said.
"I hope it too. Let's see in 3 weeks." Sarah replied.
"We will get there." Noriko finished.
Back to Juventus Stadium:
"Good game, Aizawa. I have to say you scored a great goal." Giorgio Chiellini shook hands with Kakeru.
"Thanks, Chiellini. I didn't expect to score that." Kakeru replied.
"Just pure instinct."
"Good game." Gianluigi Buffon shook hands with Kakeru.
"Thanks. I'm really honored to have played against a legend like you."
"Gigi's English is not the best. Let me translate for him." Chiellini said to Kakeru before he turned to Buffon. "Ha detto che è davvero onorato di aver giocato contro una leggenda come te (He said he is really honored to have played against a legend like you)."
"Thank you." Buffon replied to Kakeru.
"Good game." Nana shook hands with Buffon.
"Thank you. Hai un buon tiro." Buffon said.
"He said you have a good shot. That free kick is good." Chiellini translated.
"Thank you. You made a great save too." Nana replied.
"Tuttavia, non contarci ancora come battuti. Combatteremo nella prossima partita, lo prometto."
"He said that you should not count us as beaten yet. We will fight in the next match, he promises." Chiellini translated for Buffon.
Kakeru smiled at the challenge issued by the Italian goalkeeper. "We'll be up to the challenge. See you at Old Trafford."
Giorgio did not need to translate that part as Buffon understood that the challenge has been accepted, which got the Italian goalkeeper smiling. After a few more handshakes, the 2 Juventus players parted ways with Kakeru and Nana. The Manchester United players stayed on the pitch for a couple of minutes as they saluted their supporters.
"How was it for you to talk to players like Buffon and Chiellini?" Yusuke asked Kakeru. "It must be quite some feeling."
"It sure is. I have watched those players in action for years. Talking to them and earning their respect... I couldn't ask for better." Kakeru replied.
"That's good. It's a proof that you are in their league now."
"Yep!" Kakeru smiled.
A little later, the Manchester United players went back to their dressing room. Despite the win, the dressing room was quiet as everyone knew that it was only one match. José made a short speech to congratulate the players while reminding them of the matches to come before they can reach the quarterfinals. The Italian job was not quite done yet, not by a longshot.
Sunday February 25
Manchester Airport, Manchester, UK
9:47 AM GMT
After the victory against Juventus, Manchester United played their next Premier League match on the following Saturday (February 24). There, the Red Devils defeated Watford F.C. by a score of 2-0 in Watford, Herefordshire. If also was Nana's last match for Manchester United before she was called for international duty with Nadeshiko Japan for a one-week international tournament on American soil. In fact, Nadeshiko Japan were set to hold their first training session on the following Tuesday. On that Sunday morning, Kakeru took Nana to Manchester Airport, where she would then take the Virgin Atlantic Airways flight for 10:35 AM to New York.
"Where does this tournament start?" Kakeru asked.
"It's in Columbus, Ohio. That's my destination right after I land in New York." Nana replied.
"I really wish you stayed with us to face Liverpool though." Kakeru said.
"Me too, but it is a tournament that I've always wanted to be part of ever since it started existing. Besides, Yusuke can take over for me in the time being." Nana replied.
"Will you be able to watch the Liverpool game?" Kakeru asked.
"I will be back in New York for next Saturday, and it will be 7:30 AM on the East Coast on that day. Me and the other girls should be able to watch the game on NBC Sports."
"That's good. We will go for the 3 points at Old Trafford." Kakeru said.
"I know you will. Take it one minute at the time." Nana replied.
"I promise." Kakeru said. "Well... I guess it is time for me to let you go."
"Yeah. It is time." Nana replied.
"It is always tough for me to see you go no matter how many times I go through it." Kakeru said.
"Kiss me and smile for me then."
Upon those words, Kakeru hugged Nana before they kissed each other. When Kakeru felt he was comforted enough with the kiss, he showed her that smile she wanted to see.
"Best of luck in America, Nana." Kakeru said.
"Thanks, Kakeru. Best of luck against Liverpool too." Nana replied.
"Make sure you come back so we can finish the Italian job together."
"Deal." Nana finished.
Nana then walked her way towards the check-in area before she would board her plane afterwards. Kakeru remained at the airport to see Nana's plane take off before he left on the way home. While Nana shifted her focus on her upcoming duties with Nadeshiko Japan, Kakeru and their other Manchester United teammates focused on working hard in training ahead of what the English call as "the best fixture in the land."