The greatest match in sports anime history isn’t Haikyuu’s Karasuno vs. Shiratorizawa. It’s the football version of the exact same match from a decade earlier: Eyeshield 21’s Shinryuuji vs. Deimon.
From pre-game to post-game, Eyeshield 21 took 9 episodes, one shy of Haikyuu’s 10. Both matches came in tournament games against the perennial regional champions. In order to move on to play against their fated rivals, they’d need to beat teams that were considered a class above their fated rivals. All the matches up to this point were won by flashes of brilliance barely edging out growing pains. That would no longer cut it. Everything would finally have to come together to pull off the upsets. These are the games that would evolve the teams from x-factors into legitimate contenders.
Haikyuu’s match was well-animated and got into the sport with interesting play and realistic detail. It did have some weaknesses, however:
Eyeshield 21 handled the bulk of its character backstories before the match. It came before sports anime were legally required to be gay. The role-players made their presence felt. Each play was earned. The shit talking fit the sport. In addition, Eyeshield 21 gave us two of the all-time greatest moments in anime:
Will we ever see another team sports anime as good as Eyeshield 21? Probably not, since modern sports anime are less about sports and more about implied sodomy.