In terms of latent talent sitting right underneath their noses, Tatsumi didn’t land nearly as big of a sleeper in Tsubaki as Dulfer did in Kubota (Yamanaka Masahiro). Well not yet anyway, until Tsubaki shows us what he’s truly capable of. For now, it looks like Kubota is not only the odd one out in terms of appearance and personality in Osaka’s forwards, but also the key player to their offense with his ball control. Even tasking Sugie to cover him and leaving the huge Dutch import Hauer to Kuroda doesn’t seem to be enough, as Kubota is able to get the ball by ETU’s top defender with a fair bit of ease. An unsuspecting back pass is pretty slick however, so credit needs to be given where credit’s due in the Gunners’ highly touted forwards. More so than actual goals, the first wave of onslaught ETU endured emphasized that it’s Osaka’s ability to sustain pressure by tracking down loose balls that is key to their success, which Kubota seems to excel at. Hauer’s all about using his size to his advantage, whereas Katayama and Hatake are so into themselves on their goal count that Kiyokawa and Ishihama are able to keep them to the outsides most of the time and take away their scoring chances. The other three are undoubtedly the ones that will end up putting the game away, but Kubota is clearly the one to be concerned about for giving them their second and third chances.
At this point, it’s pretty hard to imagine that ETU can pull off a win. The fact that all the odds are against them both statistically and in the opening minutes does make it all the sweeter if they do though. In terms of building up suspense by dissecting the game down to every pass, this episode got that point across crystal clear. It’s probably safe to say it’s going to be a steep uphill battle hereon, as ETU will have to try to get by Osaka’s national team players in the midfield and their defense if they can somehow get out of their own zone. Incidentally, I’m still holding onto the firm belief that they’ll overcome the challenge before them, so I appreciate how the game’s quickly gone from bad or worse for entertainment purposes. The tensions are flying high and that translates into the makings of an exciting game. The individual battles on the field are a nice touch as well, with Kuroda and Hauer’s trash talking that transcends the language barrier being a good one for comic relief.
For the opening portion of this match, the entire focus was on setting the stage of what ETU’s up against. The convincing goal from Hauer’s header and Tatsumi’s frustration over Kuroda taking the Katayama’s bait helped reiterate that fact, leaving the only glimpse of ETU’s offense being a pass from Gino that was too long for Tsubaki. However, the lack of emphasis on ETU’s two forward formation as well as Natsuki and Sera’s screen time in general has me expecting big things when their moment in Tatsumi’s strategy comes around. I’m hoping to see some big plays from Gino too, since he’s been touted to have the skills of a national player with his work ethic being the only thing that’s preventing him from making the team. Judging by the pacing thus far, the match will likely span several episodes just like the Nagoya one and be the big finish of the series. Such an ending probably won’t feel very conclusive, but I’d wager it’ll be exciting every step of the way. Next time it looks like Kubota’s going to get even more limelight, so it doesn’t seem like there will be a momentum shift just yet.
* Note: There was an art mishap with Tatsumi and Dulfer’s handshake prior to the start of the match last episode. They shook with their right hands, but that somehow became their lefts during the photos. Oops?