Would You Mind If I Play? - Chapter 17

[Updated at: 2021-01-11 03:57:19]
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Chapter 17: One-Nil



Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation


Luoyang weather was suitable for outdoor sports. While the southern regions were filled with autumn drizzles, the north was still enveloped in breeze, typical at the height of fall. It was under such ideal weather that Shu Guang High School would begin their third-round match as visitors to Bai Ma High School. As for Zhongyuan, they too, would be visitors as they met Tong Xin High School―a team that finished third last year.


“Ah! Ah!” Ren Yu De cried. “If this game is won, we will meet Zhongyuan High, ’tis be fraught with grim possibilities!”


“Then let’s just throw this game,” Zhang Jun offered.


“You wouldn’t dare!” Su Fei gave him a sideways glance.


“Don’t look at me like that! I was just joking!”



At the sound of the whistle, sharp at 3.00pm, two teams intertwined by fate began their matches in separate places.


Tong Xin used their home advantage to initiate courageous offensives from the get-go. It was their captain―No.10, attacking midfielder, Lin Ling who afforded them such bravado. He was their core in the midfield. With his high success rate in short passes and general ball distribution, he earned the nickname “Surgical Knife” in the Luoyang high school soccer scene. Along with Zhongyuan’s Zhao Defeng and Dingding’s Fan Cunjie, they were the three great attacking midfielders of Luoyang. Lin Ling had his unparalleled passing, Fan Cunjie had his exquisite dribbling, while Zhao Defeng was a holistic player. With his 166-cm stature, he would carry the ball smoothly and deliver it precisely. He also had another special skill the other two did not have―his 25 to 30-m free kicks with either foot, which put on a lethal showing in every game.


Today, two of those attacking midfielders would battle. There was no “next year” for Lin Ling, and after losing to Zhongyuan in the semi-finals last year, he desired vengeance. As for Zhao Defeng, he had a year’s worth of experience after his baptism of fire. He had lost his first-year childishness and in return, he gained prudence. The captain’s armband even afforded him a regal appearance―a person who could lead such a team of royals was truly extraordinary!


Reporters and fans alike were sorry to see a clash between these two teams so early into the competition―more specifically, these two players. While Lin Ling was an outstanding player, the quality of Tong Xin’s overall lineup could not match Zhongyuan’s―which was why Tong Xin often fell to their rivals. In last year’s semi-final encounter, after Sun Laihong used the “wolfpack” strategy to nullify Lin Ling completely, Tong Xin immediately turned into an average team. This year however, the Zhongyuan coach would not be using such a risky maneuver because he believed that Li Yongle alone could bring the pain to Tong Xin’s star.


Zhongyuan’s defensive core was the burly third-year, Luo Bin. He was 186 cm tall and weighed 85 kg; he acted like the Great Wall in his team’s back line. An explosive player who offered firm defending and precise zonal marking, he could overpower any striker who dared to go against him. He was also offensive-minded, whereby he would occasionally take the ball and run up front while his partner, Deng Rui would take his place in defense.


Whenever a Tong Xin forward dodged Luo Bin, they would be met with Deng Rui. The latter was a second-year and he was as huge as his partner; he was 185 cm tall and weighed 90 kg. His skills were more practical and they were a form of insurance when Luo Bin played up front. However, he would err on occasion and his performances had yet to hit consistency. Still, he was a capable center back overall―a dedicated one too, who tended to take up what others considered as dirty or tiresome work. He would be found at the back, keeping guard along with the goalkeeper while the rest of the team pressed forward in offensive maneuvers; while others would describe him as honest, there was no hint of that in his physical appearance. His teammates called him “the oaf.” His incipient beard already grew around his face since a tender age, and along with his 185-cm stature and hooked nose, he could easily be mistaken as a gangster.


Deng Rui passed the ball to the right back, Liu Chao, another second-year student. He was 174 cm in height but brawny; other than his muscles, there was not much flesh on his body. A hardworking defender whose stamina was so good, he never appeared to tire on the pitch even as he ran back and forth on the flanks to attack as well as defend. There was also another reason he kept his place in the team―he was a master of singles. In one-on-one encounters, even Zhang Yuchao, the most experienced dribbler of their team would have a hard time shaking him off. Many opponents who desired to play that game against him in a match would simply embarrass themselves.


Liu Chao passed the ball to Li Yongle, who took possession and looked around. He saw that his team’s “Scud,” Zhang Yuchao was already on the move, and he sent out a long pass ahead of him.


Zhang Yuchao was Zhongyuan’s first choice for left midfielder. A second-year student, he was 170 cm tall and weighed 60 kg. He was of a slender build, but he was swift and he possessed outstanding footwork. When he moved past another player, he did so with “Shadowless Feet”―showing unbelievable speeds between each touch. Anytime a defender saw him on the ball and stretched a leg to block him, he would have already slipped the ball behind the other player. When others tried to stop him with bodily contact, his agility allowed him to dash ahead like a gale; his opponent would not even get a single touch of his jersey.


He was the complete opposite of Zhongyuan’s third-year right midfielder, Zhang Yulin; he was 180 cm tall and weighed 76 kg. As a technical player, speed was not his strong suit. His ball delivery from the flanks were unparalleled and he was dubbed the “Clock Smith” because of his crosses from the right―denoting that his passes had the accuracy of a watch. As a goal-scoring midfielder, Zhang Yuchao was adept at scoring by dashing into the box through the flanks. However, Zhang Yulin was an excellent assistant in offensive efforts.


With these two darting through the wings, Zhongyuan possessed the best wingers of Luoyang.


Through his deft speed, Zhang Yuchao quickly shook off a defender who came for a block. He dashed into the area and sent a drive! The keeper made a diving save to keep it out while a defender cleared―nonetheless, the ball fell to Zhao Defeng.


As Zhang Yulin moved towards the baseline, Zhao Defeng quickly sent the ball to his feet. Yulin crossed!


Third-year center forward, Li Qiang was 185 cm tall and weighed 80kg. He was a robust center forward with a powerful header, albeit a little rough on the edges in terms of his footwork. He leaped for the header but the ball went wide! What a waste! Beautiful delivery, beautiful effort, but luck simply did not hold out towards the end.


Nevertheless, Tong Xing was still the second runner-up of the previous year. The team quickly recovered and went on the attack. Lin Ling sent the ball to the right and their right midfielder quickly scampered on to the ball.


“Put down the ball!” Zhang Yang, who appeared to have read one too many martial arts novels, ran up with a sonorous yell and slid in a tackle; the other guy flew off the pitch while the ball obediently stayed.


Zhang Yang quickly passed it to Li Yongle, who had clearly become the linchpin of the Zhongyuan team, connecting both offensive and defensive lines. He then passed the ball to Zhao Defeng, whose diminutive but robust body appeared agile in comparison to the opponent’s defensive midfielder. His dribbling moves had always been so simple, but astonishingly effective. Rapidly shaking off his rival, he propelled the ball to the striker, He Jialin.


He Jialin was short for a striker; 173 cm tall, weighing at 63 kg. However, he was exceptional in his technique; he was the type of striker capable of making breakthroughs. He carried powerful instincts of getting to the ball in the last third of his matches and often scored by holding possession up front.


Using his accomplished technique, he freed himself from a pursuing defender, broke into the penalty area and took a shot!


Tong Xing’s keeper plunged forward and kept it out, but Li Qiang got to the rebound and fired!


The ball hit the woodwork before going out!


Oh, what a pity! After missing two clear-cut chances one after the other, even Li Qiang himself was feeling upset, running both his hands through his hair.


The match had just started, but Tong Xin was already feeling heavy pressure from the national first runner-up. Nevertheless, they had no thoughts of giving up on the attack. After all, they were adept at offense, not defense. Facing such a powerful foe, to give up on their strength and utilize their weakness would prove to be lethal―a complete defensive display would eventually be run down anyway. Naturally, they attacked as they usually did, with Lin Ling’s impressive passes proving to everyone that he was indisputably one of the “top three attacking midfielders” of Luoyang.


Lin Ling was different from Zhao Defeng and Fan Cunjie. He was distinguished in that he had no wasteful movements; whenever he got past his marker and reached a shred of space, he would make a pass. This sort of player was a headache for many defenders; if an opponent attempted to breakthrough, they would use their body, technique or instinct to cut the ball away.


Yet, Lin Ling was different. If he could dribble, he would. But if he believed that he could not make a breakthrough, he would not keep his attempts for too long. Instead, he would send the ball to a well-positioned teammate immediately. While Tong Xing strikers did not excel, Lin Ling’s passes made things easy for them―they would only have to get the ball and shoot. This was the thing that allowed them to score a lot, lifting Tong Xing to the top three in Luoyang.


If it had not been for Deng Rui and Luo Bin’s solid defending, Lin Ling’s passes would have dealt a lot more damage.


“Imaginative playmaking, penetrating passes and great depth perception. It’s exactly like the video.” Li Yongle observed him for 10 minutes and decided to take action against Lin Ling.


Once his rival got the ball, Li Yongle rushed in. But with a single prod of the ball as usual, Lin Ling dodged him easily, prompting cheers from the stands.


Seeing a striker running in front of him, he immediately passed!


However…


A foot reached out and stopped the ball! It was Li Yongle!


Surprised, Lin Ling could not figure out immediately how Li Yongle was able to stop him after being shaken off.


Dear Lin Ling! You can do this to most people, but he is Li Yongle! Sun Laihong thought.


At 186 cm, his legs would be 115cm! Those long legs are incomparable to your average joe. You’ll need to leave him behind by two paces if you usually leave others behind by one!


Undoubtedly, Li Yongle could stretch and make a block with his lengthy legs even if he was lobbed over. It was an advantage on 1v1 situations; he could steal balls others assumed he would not be able to.


Still on the floor, Li Yongle passed the ball to Zhang Yang, who yelled as he sped forward. Once he saw his opponents converging on him, he swiftly passed it to Zhao Defeng, who did not seem to be in a rush to attack. Using his technique, he ran circles around the other team’s defensive midfielder as he waited for Li Yongle; after all, blindly advancing up the flanks could end up getting him into a dead end. Linking-up through the middle was always the better option.


With his capability of producing considerable long-range efforts, Li Yongle was a blade that could be swung from Zhongyuan’s back line. Zhao Defeng understood this and was trying to groom his offensive instincts at this point―Yongle had been too conservative in the last few games.


Li Yongle kept running forward. When he reached Zhao Defeng, his captain sent a back heel pass to his feet and he sped up to the edge of the field.


“Shoot!” Zhao Defeng shouted behind him.


Following orders, Li Yongle fired off a long shot! The ball went out after being tipped away by the keeper.


Zhao Defeng was in the corner and he sent it sharply towards the head of the leaping Li Qiang, who jumped higher than everyone else. This time, he did not miss the chance! A solid header! It was too close and there was nothing the goalie could do about it other than watch as the ball went across the line.


It was in!


Li Qiang had opened the scoring for Zhongyuan at the twelfth minute of the first half! And it was a chance created by Li Yongle’s long shot.


Tong Xin resumed the game, appearing unaffected despite conceding. They kept playing according to their own rhythm. Li Yongle closed in on Lin Ling who was holding possession, but the opposition’s captain having learned his lesson, passed the ball straightaway to the right and ran ahead as his teammate returned it. One-two!


“How clever!” Zhou Peng, the High School Soccer reporter who was in charge of writing specials on Zhongyuan exclaimed. “Never flustered in the face of trouble, never emotional on the pitch and always using his exquisite passes to unselfishly help teammates score. He always maintained the importance of the bigger picture. Three years worth of hard work has allowed him to mature even further; what a player. It’s a pity that he has to face Zhao Defeng just as he’s about to achieve success. As the saying goes, ‘O God, since thou made Zhou Yu, why did thou also create Zhuge Liang?’ How cruel fate can be!”


Lin Ling did not stop. He passed the ball to the right of the box, where Han Xiao was waiting. Up against the ferocity of Zhang Yang, he did not dawdle, crossing it into the box. With his height and strength, Deng Rui suppressed the other team’s striker and headed the ball away.


Li Yongle got to the ball. He sent a long pass towards Zhang Yulin, who sprinted forward. He then ran towards the edge of the field and crossed the ball at a 45 ᴼ angle. Li Qiang was waiting and he leaped! But this time, a pair of hands reached out near his head and the Tong Xing keeper plucked the ball from the air.


The two teams fought it out this way, back and forth with intense offensive as well as defensive tactics―it was an utterly exciting scene. Their respective cheerleading teams were also doing their best as they chanted sonorous encouragements for their teams.


“What an exciting game,” Zhou Peng mumbled to himself. “What’s happening to Shu Guang now, I wonder.”



In the other arena.


The Shu Guang players were staring blankly at the other team who were celebrating their goal. The scoreboard clearly stated 1: 0. The hosts were in the lead.


“What the hell?!” An Ke slammed his gloves on the floor. There had been a scramble in front of the goal and five pairs of feet suddenly appeared before him all at once―there was no telling which foot struck as the ball bizarrely went into the net.


However, Liang Ke was not concerned about the goal scored against his team―he was worried about Zhang Jun. The striker had always been consistent; he was not at this moment. His runs were not as intense and his movements no longer agile. Just before the other team scored, Zhang Jun missed an open goal―it was simply abnormal for something like this to happen to him.


As a matter of fact, Zhang Jun’s jersey was already drenched in sweat after 20 minutes and it was not even a hot day. The sweat came from him enduring a throbbing pain. It was caused by the injury from the forced volley during his last game. In the week that followed, Liang Ke had put the team through an even tougher training regiment in the face of games that were potentially more difficult. And without any time to recover, the injury deteriorated.


Now, whenever he ran, the pain resonated from his right foot to his entire body.


The match resumed, but with Zhang Jun behaving strangely, Shu Guang’s attacks were disoriented. To make matters worse, Liang Ke was still prohibiting Yang Pan from making long shots―the coach insisted that those were to be reserved for the match against Zhongyuan. The ball reached Zhang Jun once more; he prepared to dribble, but was unable to do. He was then brought down by a defender. Worried, Liang Ke stood up from his seat and he only sat down again after Zhang Jun managed to pick himself up.


The agonizing pain was more distinct than ever; the defender had hit his right ankle in the challenge for the ball. Not wanting his match to end by being subbed off, Zhang Jun gritted his teeth and got up again.


Shortly after, Yang Pan’s thunderous free kick bypassed the wall but hit the crossbar. What a pity!


It was the thirty first minute and the score remained at 1: 0. The home team was in the led.


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