Well, the cat is out of the bag in terms of ETU’s formation change to two forwards with the announcement of the starting lineup. It still doesn’t look like it’s enough to turn the tides of Osaka Gunners’ four forwards, and even if they do somehow weather the onslaught storm, they’re up against two midfielders and two defenders from the Japanese national team, one of which is also on the Olympic team. On paper, I’d say it’s pretty clear why Osaka’s undefeated thus far and blew out Vanguard Kofu eight-to-nothing in their last game. All I’ve heard up until now is about their four forwards — Katayama, Hatake, Hauer, Kubota — who have been credited for their success, only to find out that they have national caliber players in the midfield — Shimura, Hiraga (captain) — and on the back-end — Terauchi, Komuro (Olympic representative as well). It sure must be nice forming teams in a salary cap-less league when you have tons of money to throw around! It’s almost ridiculous in a way, but that’s what makes it all the more interesting. In the true essence of the term, this is the “underdog story” as far as the Japan Football League in this series is concerned.
No one’s really expecting ETU to pull out with a victory — including their own fans — yet there’s still a glimmer of hope with Tatsumi behind the bench. There’s no doubt that ETU has turned more than a few heads this season with their drastically improved play, so it’s basically gut-check time to see if that was a stroke of luck or if the team’s really come around with the makings of a championship team. While a huge upset win here would probably have the media start acknowledging them as such, it’ll probably have to be a convincing one before anyone starts hopping on the ETU bandwagon. Interestingly enough, Sera looks like he’s fired up and focused more than ever to make that happen, whereas Natsuki‘s a bit shaky in the knees alongside him. Given how the entire episode was devoted to the build-up towards this big match for ETU — with all eyes watching including national team manager Blanc — Natsuki’s lack of confidence was the only thing that had me second guessing how ETU would perform offensively. With Gino thinking that he’ll actually try for a change in light of how spirited the rest of the guys are, I’m expecting big things to happen up front if Natsuki can pull himself together and show why he’s the team’s top scorer. Sera is long overdue in terms of output, so the arc detailing his struggles may have been a precursor to a stellar performance here.
Quite honestly, I would’ve liked to see the game get underway this very episode, but I do appreciate the extra time invested into making setting the stage for it. Dulfer and Tatsumi’s stand-off where they tried to read one another gave us the coaches’ perspective, which I’d say went according to Tatsumi’s plan since Dulfer remained confident in his current team’s play-style. It’s almost like Tatsumi was banking on Dulfer to not feeling intimidated by ETU’s ability to adapt to the opposition’s play and attempt to prove that his Osaka Gunners can’t be stopped. I wouldn’t quite call it arrogance because Osaka has every reason to believe they can do so, but this does allow Tatsumi to put his plan into effect. At twenty-six episodes long, I’m kind of wondering if this is the last big match that this adaptation will cover. The other big one against Nagoya Gran Pulse spanned four episodes, so this one may as well. Seeing as the anime’s been fairly faithful to the manga (from what I’ve seen), I gather it’s unlikely we’ll get any sort of real closure at the end. A huge giant killing would open the way for a continuation however, should that be what’s in store. For now, I’m just going to enjoy this match whether it takes one episode or all the rest in the season.