Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
"When I return home, I will become a faithful devotee of Inari."
Takashi truly thought, having received an incredible gift from the fox deity, both in personal growth and in the form of a beautiful girl named Nao. However, Shiraito's focus was on prayer, not gratitude, as he contemplated the halftime score being tied at zero after the referee's signal.
Things weren't going as planned. With the draw between Takachiho and Tsuno, Nobeoka emerged as the leading contender for the title by defeating Hyuga 3-1.
"This isn’t right. At this rate, we won't become champions."
"Nice marking, Ueda. You made corner kicks tricky."
Amid the loud crowd, Takashi remained oblivious to an opposing player conversing with him as they strolled toward the locker rooms, only realizing it when they were nearly side by side. A boy with short hair styled upwards, brown eyes, and a compact frame.
"Oh, thanks... Yamamoto."
Takashi's intuition surged as he vocalized the name on the other player's jersey. "Yamamoto? Wait..."
"My sister talked a lot about you, Takashi."
Nao's younger brother, Haruki.
"Oh, I see. Nice to meet you."
"Same for you. Although, regrettably, she never mentioned your field performance. I should've recruited her as a scout."
Despite his general distrust, Takashi hadn't contemplated the notion that Nao might leak information to the local team. It intrigued him that Shiraito hadn't considered it either.
"I can say the same," Takashi smiled. "You're a talented player, Haruki."
"Thanks. Although, it can be challenging at times. Pressure can get to you," he grinned sheepishly.
"What are you talking about?" Takashi couldn't fathom it. “How could it be tough for someone of his caliber, wearing the number 10 jersey?”
“So,” Haruki continued, “What do you think about Nao?”
"Oh…” Takashi felt flustered by the question. “She's a good friend."
"Friend? I should let you know that I saw you holding hands at the festival."
Takashi's face flushed red, matching his uniform's burgundy. "I-I..."
"Relax, relax," Haruki chuckled, patting his shoulder. "I know you're a good guy. That's why I wanted to thank you for making Nao happy. It's great to see her joyful again."
An affectionate touch reached Takashi’s soul. "Am I really doing that?"
"I'm glad it's like that," he sent back a big smile.
"Well, let's keep playing well then. It's the best way to make that fool over there happy."
Haruki nodded, and their focused gazes settled on Nao. As always, her heart brimmed with nervousness, but she couldn't resist responding with a goofy smile to both, looking affectionately at the two people who could make her smile broadly. The sentiment quickly spread to Takashi, effortlessly dispelling any worries he had about the approaching match.
"That's right!" Takashi kept looking at her.
That smile from Nao meant something very special. It interwove her admiration for the players with the care she had for both. Observing their harmonious relationship despite being rivals filled her with immense happiness.
By the middle of the second half, however, Nao was very worried.
A Takachiho player executed a forceful tackle on Yoshida, but the action persisted until a foul on Kenjiro prompted the referee's intervention. Subsequently, another Tsuno defender delivered a heavy blow to Haruki, causing Nao to avert her gaze until he regained his footing. This pattern repeated itself repeatedly. The match had intensified, a sensation Takashi experienced firsthand.
"Hey!" the fox yelled as he hit the ground due to a foul from behind while in the midfield.
Besides the referee's whistle, Takashi heard laughter from behind.
"You!" the defender, Ogawa, clicked his tongue and regarded him. "Get up."
Takashi rose to his feet. "Who do you think you are?" Yet, his anger dissipated swiftly.
Kenjiro swiftly seized the ball as the opposing defense reorganized. He sent a through pass to Jun, who advanced towards the box's edge. Although he lost the ball to a defender, the rebound found its way to an advancing Takashi at the center.
Instead of taking a shot, displaying excellent vision, he delivered the ball wide to Hiroshi, who netted it beyond the helpless goalkeeper with a beautiful assist from 'The Fox.'
All eyes fixated on Hiroshi as the assistant referee's flag was raised, signaling an offside call.
"No! This is preposterous!" Shiraito exclaimed before starting to complain so fast that Nao couldn't decipher it.
Everyone was certain it wasn't offside, and they were correct. The goal should have been valid. However, regardless of how questionable it seemed, respect must be upheld for the referee's decision.
Witnessing the aftermath, Takashi felt a tornado of emotions rekindle within him. With each subsequent play, his feelings intensified. There were no rivals marking Takashi anymore. Fear marked him, he battled against disappointment for the balls, and aimed his shots at the goal guarded by failure. And all those dehumanizations were winning, as Takashi, approaching the final minutes of the match, had failed to create any more danger.
Enveloped in his emotions, he couldn't disregard the insults from inebriated youths frequenting the local bar behind the substitute bench. Their taunts targeted his latest missed opportunity.
"How awful!" Nao looked at them furiously, although the only thing that made them react was Shiraito throwing some candies at them.
"Hey!" One yelled when a candy struck him on the head.
"Shut up! Stupid drunks," the coach mustered. Shiraito was the second word, but he had enough decency not to be the first. Perhaps that's why he shifted from fury to utter astonishment as he turned back to the field.
Unforeseen circumstances unfolded, catching everyone by surprise. In an attempt to breach the lines, one of Takachiho's center-backs delivered a low pass to the right midfielder. Yet, this pass fell short, promptly seized by the vigilant Kenjiro, who seized the opportunity.
"Now!" Shiraito's shout pierced through the confusion and trepidation among the opposing team.
The local defense tried to catch the Tsuno team offside again, causing the defenders to stop retreating and leaving the attackers behind.
"Go!" the other center-back, their captain, shouted.
Nevertheless, for Takachiho, it was too late. With precision akin to a surgeon and a predator's instincts, Kenjiro executed a swift, pinpoint through pass. The ball surged toward the field's center, and the attacking trident dashed toward it. Jun on the left, Hiroshi on the right, and Takashi at the center, poised to control the ball. Three against the goalkeeper, who stood little chance.
A ‘tatan tatan,’ as a familiar football expression in Spanish implies. A phrase denoting anticipation or exhilaration during a swiftly executed dangerous play. Thus, "tatan tatan" could mimic the powerful beats of each player's heart on the field. Shiraito's, who envisioned triumph in the final move. Nao's, who watched attentively as the one she cared for poised to score once more. Jun's and Hiroshi's, and most notably, Takashi's, who, envisioning a route to victory, sensed his heartbeat resound like a steam locomotive.
"We're facing the goalkeeper. If I score, we only need a tie in the last match to become champions.” It was a winning goal. A three-point goal. A championship goal. “Inari, is that you? Will it happen? Will it finally happen?"