The 2005 Champions League final was witness to one of the great second half comebacks of all time. Down 3-0 at the break against a rampant Milan side, Liverpool stormed back with 3 quick goals and held on for a penalty shootout they ultimately won. In retrospect, it is easy to say that Liverpool did not deserve to win. While the first goal was legitimate, Vladimir Smicer’s goal probably should have been kept out by Milan keeper Dida, and the equalizer came from a penalty won by a Steven Gerrard dive.
This still did not change the fact that Liverpool were a changed side in the second half. Whether it was due to an attitude that they had nothing to lose, or anything else will probably never be fully known. That hasn’t stopped theories about what happened in the dressing room at halftime. Rumors that manager Rafa Benitez went to work diagramming Liverpool’s tactics with 12 men were quick to emerge, but were ultimately squashed by several players. Comedian Dave Kirby parodied some of the rumors in a short film about the halftime team talk (below). I for one think the more interesting and forgotten angle may be what happened in the other dressing room in those 15 minutes.
The 22nd episode of Giant Killing sees ETU begin the process of self-examination in the dressing room themselves as Tatsumi heads off on another quest. By the time all is said and done, ETU are giving a better account of themselves on the pitch as the episode ends with 55 minutes gone. The 3 areas of interest in this post I will be highlighting are a look at bandwagoning fans, the idea of fun and Natsuki’s determination.
The Real Fandom
As the teams were heading out to start the second half, we caught up with the group of older casual fans finally entering the stadium with a banner they wanted to put up. As the Skulls member tells them to do one, they begin arguing with him saying that people used to be able to hang banners late when they were fans. The Skulls’ leader, Hata, then arrives and tells them he knew they wouldn’t understand, and said that their members would never want to become like Tanuma (the unshaven store owner).
As I was watching this I became surprisingly sympathetic toward Hata. Here were a group of people who only started to travel to matches again because Tatsumi became manager again. Rather than support ETU through relegation to the second division, they chose to get married and live their own lives away from supporting ETU until their hero returned. I would also add, that they clearly don’t care enough to have someone bring the banner in a few days before the match to put up, so I’d argue the Skulls have a point.
Then again, the question becomes whether this is really about supporting a football club, or instead about fandom in general. Hata and the Skulls have a passion for the club above anything else. However, their training ground protests and demands on players and staff could ultimately be considered detrimental to the club they love, but they would never see it that way. In addition, the Skulls and ultras supporters groups in general intimidating less hardcore fans turns them off from supporting a football club and damages the club financially as well. I have to wonder if this is a statement on the medium in general.
The Most Important Thing
In the matches against Nagoya and now Osaka, a certain theme has started to emerge about the thing that brings the best out of players: football is supposed to be fun. Nagoya’s Brazilian trio were having a fun time after their move to Japan, and their performances had the club at the top of the league before their defeat to ETU. In that match, the midfielder Carlos moved forward because he wasn’t having fun not being involved in the Nagoya attack, which ultimately cost them the match. Later in that same match, Tsubaki had plenty of fun on his run that created the second goal, smiling as he ran past Carlos.
Against Osaka, Tatsumi had planned his entire strategy around his players having fun. After a torrid first half, he went around the stadium asking ballboys what they would think if ETU turned the match around and won, and one of them said it would be a really fun match. Tatsumi adds that those kind of turnarounds are fun for him to watch in other matches.
While ETU are heavily reliant on having fun in this match, Osaka are more concerned with increasing their goal tallies individually. Dulfer sees no problem with this and believes they can add another goal soon. The key player Kubota, was having fun in the first half which contributed to his excellent performance, which could become important later.
As the second half started, Kuroda was getting the better of Hauer, but Tatsumi thought he was almost there because he needed to enjoy his matchup with the big Dutch striker. Kuroda’s mood was quickly carrying over to the rest of the defense as Sugie focused on stopping Kubota by charging him off the ball and forcing errant passes. The question becomes, will the mood carry over to the attacking players, and will Kubota’s morale plummet in the face of Sugie denying him anything?
The Reason for Natsuki’s Nerves
In the middle of a counterattack, Natsuki lost possession when he was unable to decide whether to pass to Akasaki or Sera. His nerves have been shot, and Tatsumi knows it has to do with the fact that he told him he doesn’t have the determination a forward needs. With Gino furious at how his glorious pass was wasted, Natsuki will have to do something to get his trust back, but denying him the ball may be the best thing for him.
Natsuki’s determination seems to show up in patches. The previous season, he probably got the ball whenever ETU needed a goal because he was the only one in the team who would put chances away. With Sera’s drive to end his scoreless run and Sakai’s determination to show he can still cut it at this level, the naturally talented Natsuki has yet to really earn his spot in the team. With Gino relying on other outlets going forward and showing that ETU have other ways of attacking, Natsuki could yet become motivated to show what he can do when a chance is presented.
Thoughts: I’m actually expecting Osaka to get very close to scoring a third goal, but ultimately be denied. Also, just because he hasn’t had much influence yet, I expect Tsubaki to be brilliant in the next episode, scoring one and setting up an equalizer for Natsuki or Sera. Perhaps that’s a tad optimistic, though.