Keeping Your Eyes On The Ball
A few months has passed, since Akane had finally mustered enough strength to submit her feelings towards Brian.
Not only that, both she and the Cures were able to defeat Mouser, the Bad End Kingdom creature who awoke after its a thousand year slumber.
In the meantime, Nao's family, Akane, Yayoi, Reika, Miyuki and Candy cheer Nao on in the remaining minute of her important soccer game.
Nao's school soccer team are trailing by one point and Nao is doing her best to tie the game and proceed to go into overtime.
The reason as to why she is sweating so profusely and nervous is because this match-up is a qualifying round in order to participate in the soccer National Tournament Cup. Although, it wasn't as easy for herself and her school soccer team to be selected, due to the entrance exams that they've gone through.
This was also broadcasted on the radio and it even caught the attention of a famous soccer legend during his time with his wife and two kids.
Nao quickly notices that time is running out and the referee is about to blow his whistle; knowing that she must act fast. As the last twenty seconds draws down, she kicked the ball as hard as she could straight towards the goalie.
Unfortunately, much to her shock and grief, she hit it too high and it hit the goalpost where it got bounced back. In turn, the match has concluded and both Nao and her school's soccer team had lost the game; 3 to 2.
"Match over!" yelled the referee after blowing his whistle and thus ending the game.
When that occurred, Nao stood there frozen until she sank to her knees and hung her head down in defeat. "N-No way." She started to cry. "I-I lost."
Miyuki and everybody in the crowd became hurt that Nao and her team had lost their opportunity to qualify for the National Tournament at the last second.
Even the young black haired soccer player that had listened to the startling news, regarding one certain individual was also surprised of the outcome. As he turned off the radio, he narrowed his eyes with concern and turned to his wife about the situation that has occurred. "It sounds like that she needs an improvement. Sanae, I'm going over to her school for two weeks after this Saturday and Sunday by giving both Nao and her teammates some much needed assistance."
"I understand, Tsubasa-san. Are you certain that you will be able to help them overcome their defeat?"
He nodded his head. "Certainly. Nanairogaoka Middle School is a little far from where we are, but not by much. While I'm away, look after the boys for me."
"I will and good luck."
After the closing match, Nao remained at the field but only sitting by herself at the stands.
She is later joined in by Miyuki and her friends as they commend her best efforts. However, she remained withdrawn since the surprising outcome.
Reika, Nao's childhood friend, does her best to enlighten her. "Nao, I understand how you feel. Just, don't take it too seriously. You'll do better the next time."
Much to Nao's chagrin, she replied sadly. "How?"
This had left her confused including everybody.
Nao continued, while she tightened her fists on her knees. "How can I improve myself, when I let everyone down?" Tears appeared in her eyes and began to trickle down on her face. "I…I messed up!" She later buried her face with her hands and cried on.
There was little that Miyuki and the others could do except watch, but not for Reika.
She nestled Nao's head on her chest and continued to sob, regarding her upsetting loss.
"Nao…" said Miyuki, sadly.
'There has to be a way to help her. The problem is, how?' thought Candy to herself.
After the weekend, Nao was back at her school with the same miserable look on her face from Friday and her arms are crossed. Her memory of losing the qualifying spot in the National Tournament for her school's soccer team has been affecting her, greatly.
Miyuki felt terrible about Nao's painful loss. "Poor Nao."
"I feel bad for her" added Yayoi.
"Isn't there anything that we can do?" thought Akane, sadly.
"I'm afraid not. Ever since the weekend, she's still feeling left out. One of her siblings says that she might consider giving up soccer" told Reika.
"Eh?!" cried Miyuki, Yayoi and Akane altogether.
"Nao? Quitting?" whispered Miyuki to Akane.
"No way! She can't quit now! It's just too..." before she could even finish her sentence, Miss Sasaki Namie walked into the classroom and greeted her students.
"Good morning, everyone."
"Good morning," they all said, cheerfully. Except for Nao, still feeling ashamed and miserable over the weekend.
Miss Sasaki became worried. "Nao? What's wrong?"
Everyone in the classroom glanced at Nao with concern on their faces.
But not for Miss Sasaki as she discovered Nao's saddened expression. "I see why you're feeling this way. You're upset about what happened on Friday. Is that true?"
Nao slowly raised her head and answered to her, softly. "Y-Yes. If only I had more time, this wouldn't have happened." Hot tears came streaming down on her cheeks and onto her desk.
The brown-haired teacher felt sorry for Nao, including all of the students. So, she exited out of her desk and confronted her with a smile. "Nao. This morning, we have a special guest coming in here for two weeks and after I've discussed with him over the weekend prior to your soccer match, he says that he's more than willing to help you out."
"Huh? Who would that be?" she wondered.
"You'll soon find out after your lunch break. But for right now, cheer up. Okay?"
After wiping her tears from her emerald green eyes, she replied back. "Yes."
Once Nao and her friends had finished their lunch break, they've proceeded to the soccer field, where the special guest is attending.
Miyuki asked Reika. "Reika, any idea as to whom this visitor might be?"
She shook her head. "Sorry. I wasn't told about it. Whoever it is, it sounds important to Nao."
"I hope so. I'm worried about her" informed Akane.
"Me too. Let's hope that she can pull herself together" suggested Yayoi.
A few minutes later, Miss Sasaki came outside and presented to everybody the visitor. "Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome you all to our special guest for this session."
The tall young man revealed himself to everyone and as a result, they became very awestruck. He has black hair, dark blue eyes, wearing a blue jersey with white stripes, a red and white shield with an eagle in the center with the words 'JLA' on-top at the right side on the shirt, white shorts with blue stripes, long pure blue socks and red and black soccer shoes. His shirt and shorts also has his famous number ten on it. He greets them with his introduction. "Hello, there. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tsubasa Ozora. I'm known as the Soccer Prodigy."
'Tsubasa Ozora? That's the man my teacher told me about?' thought Nao.
Yayoi's eyes shined brightly upon seeing him, including Akane's. "He looks so cool!"
Miss Sasaki informs Tsubasa. "Tsubasa, please describe your background to them and then, showcase your skills."
"I most certainly will."
Right after her brief instructions, Sasaki went back inside the school.
Later on, he introduced himself about his involvement with the sport that he desires. "As many of you may or may not know, I've been playing soccer since I was little. I've developed a strong passion for the sport and hoping to achieve my dream. When I was very young, I almost got run over by a speeding bus while I was playing with the ball and as I held in-front of me, it served as a cushion and the force of the bump blew me away. From there, I became a highly-skilled player and after being selected from the entrance exams that I took part in, I helped my school team, Nankatsu to win numerous youth national championships. Afterwards, I've played for Sao Paulo FC and later, FC Barcelona. In-spite of that, I still come back to represent Team Japan for the National and World Youth Championships."
When Nao has listened to every detail that Tsubasa had shared with her and everybody else about his career, she was left flabbergasted. 'Wow! I've never met anyone like him with that much potential to accomplish with.'
Tsubasa had noticed Nao's surprising expression and recalled her name relating to the soccer qualifying match from Friday. He then calls out to her. "Pardon me but, would your name happen to be Midorikawa Nao?"
She leapt to her attention. "Y-Yes! But, how do you know my name?"
He replied to her. "It was mentioned throughout the broadcast radio."
"Oh, I see. So, what brings you out here and what's your dream?" she wondered.
He answered briefly. "Well, first off; I'm here to help you and your team to improve your soccer skills and second, my dream is to win the FIFA World Cup for Team Japan."
Nao gasped, when he uttered the word 'FIFA'. "Wh-What?! Y-Y-You're a FIFA player?!"
Not only was she utterly shocked, so did everyone on the soccer field as they whispered to each other about his occupation.
"I'm...speechless," told Reika.
"Tell me about it," says Akane.
He fetched the ball to Nao and offered. "So, Nao. Would you like me to show you and your team the ropes? This could very well solve your problem."
Knowing that he's willing to assist her in any way possible, her smile grew into a crescent-shaped moon. "Absolutely!"
He demonstrates one of his famous techniques to her and everybody. By acquiring the right angle at the ball with his right foot, he kicks it with such force and velocity as he sends it straight into the net with great speed.
Nao became utterly gob smacked after seeing Tsubasa's wicked shot. "I-Incredible! Did you see that?"
"I saw it, but I don't believe it" replied Akane.
"You see? Practice makes perfect. Therefore, I would like to have Nao to demonstrate her skills against me…in a face-off."
"Eh?! Nao against Tsubasa?" cried Miyuki.
"Oh, my" says Reika.
Nao gulped her throat down, upon squaring off against Tsubasa during practice.
There was a stare down between them for possession of the ball. Although Nao is younger than Tsubasa, he is more skilled than she is. Once the wind blew, both of them pounced at the same time to retrieve the ball. Fortunately, it was Tsubasa who caught it by blocking Nao's foot, zipping past her and heads toward the net as he shoots it straight for the solid goal.
Nao became shocked that Tsubasa was quick enough to not only parry her attempted kick, but also to by-pass her and score the victory. When she compared the differences in experience with soccer between herself and Tsubasa, she turned away slightly in shame.
Tsubasa read her expression and realized that she may not regain her desire for soccer and to succeed from where she left off. Consequently, he placed his hand on her shoulder and theorized the situation. "Nao, we all can't be perfect. Even I have to learn from my mistakes."
He countered. "Now, look. Walking away won't solve your problem. It will only get worse. You must understand that having confidence and a clear mind are the keys of becoming a true athlete. In other words, the ball is your friend. Treat it just like you treat with your friends. If you put that into perspective by acting positive, you'll be able to succeed from where you last started."
She became intrigued of his encouraging words to her. "T-Tsubasa-san…" She smiled. "Thank you."
For Tsubasa, on the other hand, his expression was much different. "Don't take this too lightly. There are also two important parts, regarding soccer; consistency and accuracy. If your eyes are not set on the ball with the correct target, it will go off the mark."
'I didn't expect to hear that' thought Nao, glumly.
"But aside from that, do you and your team still want to resume your practice?" he asked.
"Yes! Please do," she nodded in agreement.
In the weeks that followed, Nao's training with Tsubasa was running smoothly; along with her teammates. Some of which needed some trial and error on their skill shots towards the goal including to build both defense and offence. Despite some technical flaws along the way, they've managed to get back into full motion.
When the training was concluded after two weeks, Tsubasa makes his departure. "Well, I'm off. You all take care of yourselves and remember from what I've taught you. Until then, see you later!"
"Bye, bye!" they all shouted in unison.
As he left the soccer field, Nao briefly sighed. "Whew! That was some training."
"Definitely." Reika turned to Nao. "Nao, you should be grateful."
"What do you mean?" Nao asked.
Reika elucidated. "At first, you lost your faith in the sport that you admire. But the moment Tsubasa-san came in to show you the true meaning of it, your passion for it is beginning to rebuild. So, as long as you trust yourself by adapting in your abilities, you'll be one step closer of reaching your goal."
Nao was moved by her touching words. "Reika…"
"I'm certain that you'll turn things around. It could very well bring a huge smile on your face."
From that point on, Nao smiled after hearing Reika's statement.
"How nice," cried Miyuki.
"I couldn't agree more," added Yayoi.
With her training from Tsubasa completed after two weeks, Nao headed home.
Back inside her bedroom, Nao contemplated about her newfound skills that she learned from Tsubasa by glancing at her soccer ball. "I feel so relieved. Have I really regained my confidence, thanks to him? Or is it a coincidence that he wanted to lift the weight off my shoulders?" Then, he smiled. "Whether the case, that makes me really happy."
Just then, the door had swung open and her mother called out to her.
"You have a phone call."
She blinked her eyes. "F-For me?" By walking up to the phone, she picked it up and answered. "Hello, Midorikawa residence." When she hears the caller's response, she gasped in utter shock. "Eh?! What did you say?"
When she arrived at the soccer field the next day, she was still feeling speechless about yesterday while discussing it with Miss Sasaki. "Teacher, there must've been some sort of a mistake."
"Oh, I'm afraid not, Nao. By the time that you and your team were defeated by them, they were starting to become sick with high fever, red eyes and runny noses. Long before Tsubasa-san arrived to improve your skills."
Nao was still not convinced. "Then, what was the cause of their sickness?"
She unveiled her answer. "It was the Measles."
"Oh, dear." That's when she remembered her conversation with her teacher from yesterday. "Wait a second. If they're out with a cold and no one else to face the opposing team in the Nationals, then that must mean..." When she looked up at her teacher with a look of shock on her face, Sasaki nodded and replied back.
"That's right, Nao. You and your team are their replacements."
"No way!" she cried.
A week later, Nao and her team are ready to redeem themselves after their difficult loss and their training from Tsubasa. As she takes a quick glance at the audience sitting down at the bleachers, there stood Miyuki, Candy, Akane, Yayoi, Reika and her whole family rooting for her. However, there was no sight of Tsubasa anywhere and after what had transpired from earlier, she was starting to worry and her heart was beating rapidly.
Once the match has progressed, Nao was beginning to lose confidence and as a result, her team began to fall apart.
Onward to the third period and Nao's opponents are ahead by five, while herself and her team haven't yet scored a single goal after two periods.
Miyuki and her friends began to worry about her sudden performance. "This doesn't look good. She's trailing behind and it's already in the third period."
"Come on, Nao! Fight!" called Yayoi, out loud to her.
"But, how is she going to get back into this? I mean, after all the training that she endured from Tsubasa, it's not helping much" informed Akane.
Reika immediately tapped Akane's shoulder, when she spotted someone in the distance. "Akane, you might want to rephrase that."
The moment she showed Akane, Miyuki and Yayoi as to whom she saw, they gasped in awestruck to see Tsubasa approaching to Nao's team.
"Eh? Why, that's..."
"Tsubasa-san! But, why is he here?"
"I know! He's going to motivate Nao!"
Back to where Nao is, sitting down on the bench with her team after unable to score a goal until Tsubasa came in and approached her. "Hey, Nao."
She turned around and gasped. "Tsubasa-san!"
"I'm surprised that you and your team are being rundown. This is not like you, when we first met."
Nao responded. "Tsubasa-san, I'm sorry that I failed you."
"You mustn't think like that. This match is not only about your team and your friends, this is also about you," replied Tsubasa.
"Well, yes but..." she tried to finish her sentence, but she couldn't.
He continued and explained the situation. "Listen, don't hesitate and rush into things. If you do, you'll have to restart from scratch. Yet, the question remains as to whether or not you will be able to put forth your newly adapted skills and set it into motion. You won't be able to move further on without believing in yourself and everyone that you care about."
Nao became motivated from his speech. "Tsubasa-san."
"You can do it, Nao. Besides, what was all the hard training that I've given you had done for?"
This had given her some time to cogitate and recall her training with him. By looking back at the scoreboard and later her friends and family, she turned to Tsubasa. "I understand, Tsubasa-san." She than motioned to her teammates. "Everyone! It's now or never! Let's believe in our smiles and hope for the best!"
"Yeah!" they all shouted, cheerfully.
With the third period underway, Nao heads to the center and awaits the signal from the referee.
As he blew his whistle, Nao quickly takes control of the ball and moves past several players from the opposing side with some assistance from her teammates until she executed her newfound technique that she learned from Tsubasa during her training session. Apparently, it was the same move that Tsubasa had demonstrated to her, when he first met Nao at school.
Her inspiration from Tsubasa had reinvigorated her passion for soccer and her concentration skills during her match in the Nationals, since the original team that had beaten them from early in the month had to forfeit due to the Measles.
After surviving for nearly twenty-nine minutes, only one minute was remaining and Nao had managed to score three goals including her other teammates scoring two more points to tie the game. She took a quick look at the scoreboard and somehow, it was just like from before. Only this time, it was in the Nationals.
By taking a deep breath and wiping the sweat off her forehead, she maintains her focus. After the referee's whistle, she gets control of the ball once again and manages to bypass her opponents as she kicks the ball with great force. As she does, it went over the goalkeeper's head with fierce adrenaline to take the lead.
The audience cheered happily for her comeback and overall performance. And then, the entire crowd stood up and calls out her last name with anticipation by unifying together.
Nao was not only perplexed, but also very astounded of everyone giving their support to her. Her emerald green eyes were shining like diamonds and her smile was filled with greatness.
Now that her confidence level has reached a whole new level, she heads back to the center. She quickly checks the scoreboard again and then her friends and family sitting at the bleachers, before Tsubasa as he nods his head in agreement. There was only thirty seconds left in the clock and realizes that she must end this fast. Once the referee blew his whistle, Nao parries her opponent's foot and takes possession of the ball.
Accordingly, it was the same counter move Tsubasa had used on Nao and became genuinely pleased that she's utilizing it in this match.
Despite the hardline defense from the opposing team, she was able to zip past the players and with twenty seconds left, she aimed carefully at the goalie and by applying the right angle, it goes right over the goalkeeper's head and into the net with enough speed to break the tie and win the game for her team; just as the referee blew his whistle.
When that happened, Nao jumped with great joy. "I did it!"
The entire audience rose from their seats and applauded both teams. Nao's friends and family had also cheered on for her outstanding victory.
"Way to go, Nao!" called Miyuki.
"You won!" added Candy.
"Alright!" says Akane.
"That was amazing!" told Yayoi.
"Congratulations, Nao" said Reika.
She right away waved to the crowd with a huge smile on her face. But not before their cheers turned into gasps.
"Huh? Is there something wrong?" she wondered.
"Hey! Isn't that Tsubasa Ozora?" says one of the audience members.
"Why, yes it is!" said another one.
The moment she heard his name called out, she turned around to see Tsubasa standing in-front of her. However, he is carrying a white box with a pink ribbon on it in his hands and is being joined by a young woman with short dark brown hair, dark blue eyes, wearing a white t-shirt with a purple collar, light purple skirt and pink sneakers. Next to her are two young boys with short black hair, dark blue eyes, wearing green tank-tops with light blue shirt and shorts with white shoes.
"Tsubasa-san, who are they and what's inside that box?" she asked.
"I'm glad that you asked me. Nao, this is my wife, Sanae and these two are my sons, Hayate and Daibu" he told her.
As her friends made their way to the soccer field to congratulate her and greet Tsubasa with his crew, Reika and Yayoi became infatuated with his young siblings.
"Aw, they're so cute. Just like Nao's kids."
"I know. They look great."
Both Hayate and Daibu blushed after seeing their friendly smiles.
Tsubasa laughed a little bit, but not before giving a special gift to Nao. "Nao, for demonstrating your newfound abilities and showing your positive side towards soccer, I would like for you to have this."
Nao took the package and as she opened the top cover, she gasped in shock to see what was inside. It was the same blue jersey that he wore from his practice with her. She became instantly overwhelmed glancing at it. "Tsubasa-san, you're giving away your jersey to me? I-I can't accept this."
Sanae explained. "Oh, we're certain that you will. Just turn it to the other side."
"Okay." As soon as she does, she gasped again in astonishment. It not only has the number ten, but it also has her last name inscribed on it. Her eyes were covered with tears of joy and as she turned back to Tsubasa, she replied back. "Tsubasa-san..." Unable to hold onto her happiness any longer, she threw her arms around his lower back. "Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome, Nao. I'm glad you like it."
Not only did she cry happily about her surprising gift from him, so did her friends.
"That's beautiful," says Miyuki, wiping a tear from her eyes.
"Indeed" added Yayoi.
"It almost feels like the time that I met with Brian. Only different" told Akane.
Sanae would later inform Tsubasa that he must part ways from Nao.
Just as he was about to leave, Nao calls out to him. "Hey, Tsubasa-san!"
"Yes, what is it?"
"I just want to say that after everything you've done to help me out and when I get older, I want to be just...like you!"
He became visibly shocked upon hearing those words; including his family and Nao's friends. Interestingly, he smiled and extended his hand out to her. "That's great. I hope that we'll cross paths again, someday. Will you be ready the next time we meet?"
"Yes! Definitely." She shook his hand firmly and from that point on, they both earned each other's respects.
Three months later, Nao would still inherit her newfound skills that she obtained from Tsubasa to reach her school soccer team to the National Cup Finals. By scoring six solid goals, she and her team would go on to win the National Tournament.
A picture frame of herself, her school soccer team and her friends is shown on her bedside. Along with her customized blue soccer jersey that Tsubasa has given her as a gift.
Nao's passion for soccer and enthusiasm has reached a new height. With a huge smile on her pretty face, she is looking forward to a bright future.