Would You Mind If I Play? - Chapter 18[Updated at: 2021-01-11 03:57:19]
Chapter 18: The Best Defensive Midfielder of the Nation
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The Tong Xing cheerleading team were giving their all; their team appeared to have an advantage over Zhongyuan at the moment. With his experience, Lin Ling was wearing down the younger Li Yongle. He passed the ball right in front of the center back before Luo Bin cut the pass off by sternly holding off one of Tong Xing’s strikers.
“Hey! Hey! Don’t allow their attacks to keep us encircled!” He shouted and dashed forward forcefully with the ball into the midfield.
Lin Ling did not utter a word as he chased Luo Bin down. He wanted to get the ball away from him because he knew what it meant when the full back was moving forward purposefully.
Li Yongle followed too and slipped between the pair, splitting them apart. Aware of what he was trying to do, Lin sped up and shook him off. Two of Lin’s teammates however, tried to get closer to stop the Zhongyuan advance―meaning that Zhao Defeng was left unmarked. Luo Bin passed the ball decisively, Zhao Defeng got the ball, turned, and sped up. Zhang Yuchao and Zhang Yulin immediately sprinted up the flanks, taking their markers with them. Thus, the Tong Xing box was clear.
“Li Qiang!” Zhao Defeng lobbed a pass; Li Qiang jumped powerfully for the header and diverted the ball to He Jialin, who swept out a shot when he got to it! The ball deflected off the keeper and went into the net.
2: 0! A rapid counter! It was just 10 seconds from Luo Bin’s intercept to He Jialin’s goal, although fast breaks had always been Zhongyuan’s specialty. For the last two years, every opponent who met Zhongyuan had always opted for sheer defense due to Zhongyuan’s fearsome reputation―forcing them to perform encircling attacks for entire games. But in this game, with Tong Xing taking a resolute offensive approach with the confidence of having Lin Ling in the team, Zhongyuan had an opportunity to unleash its true power. Once Zhongyuan cut off the ball with its defense, the five-to-six players who were in their own half would dash to the other within moments and score with a single stroke; Like a viper’s tongue, nimble and lethal.
The routinely impassive Lin Ling could not help but frown at the scored goal. “Damn it!” If not for Li Yongle’s bodily block slowing him down, he would have been able to prevent the counter. The viper had lashed out its tongue and bit them viciously―and it would very well prove to be lethal. He still remembered their semi-final encounter from last year vividly. Tong Xin led through a goal in the first-half thanks to his meticulous passing; when the game resumed after the interval, Zhongyuan had maintained their conservative pattern and they foolishly pressed on, thinking that they could enlarge the gulf between the scores. But after Luo Bin led the back line and weathered through their assault for 20 minutes, Zhao Defeng utilized two effective counter-attacks and assisted Li Qiang as the forward scored a brace. Thus, Zhongyuan won by a score of 2: 1.
Would today be a rerun of last year’s bout?
This time, it was Li Yongle who clearly accelerated and ran towards Lin Ling just as another Tong Xing player made a pass to his captain; when the ball reached Lin Ling, the defender was so close to him that Lin Ling was not even able to turn. He was forced to send the ball back. This scenarios where he was not able to move freely when he got to the ball had been going on for quite some time. For a midfielder who played up front but could not even turn, what play was there to make?
It was a sensation he did not feel last year even when he was surrounded by three Zhongyuan defenders. Indeed, this was the first time he felt such pressure―and on top of that, from a single freshman.
After a flustered pass, the referee rang his whistle to signal the end of the first period.
Zhang Jun finally got the chance to raise his feet for a shot. However, there was a clear lack of power behind the effort from his right leg―it was more appropriate to call it a back pass than a shot. The keeper easily gathered the ball into his arms and the referee rang his whistle to signal the end of the first half. The score was 1: 0, Bai Ma High School was still in the lead.
Sun Laihong received the news from Bai Ma; Shu Guang was behind an average Bai Ma team. He was shocked―he regarded Shu Guang as a future opponent since the first round of the nationals. The depth of their quartet of first-years was no joke. Their ability could be a real threat to Zhongyuan in the next two years.
“Do you know?” Zhang Yang quietly said to Li Yongle, “Shu Guang is losing.”
“How do you know?” Li Yongle replied, startled.
“When I walked by the coach just now, I heard him mumble, ‘Why is Shu Guang losing?\'”
Li Yongle was quiet.
“Don’t worry! I don’t think anything will happen,” Zhang Yang added, calming his friend. “They are the lead actors! If the lead actors die off, what is there to write about?!”
Yongle considered this and nodded. “You’re right.”
“Totally. Why don’t you think about how you’re going to handle that No. 10 instead of worrying about others. I can see that you were pretty haggard in the first half.”
“You don’t have to worry for me.” Li Yongle smiled. “He won’t be able to do anything in the second half.”
“That confident? I heard he’s among the top three attacking midfielders in Luoyang!”
“And my target is to become the best defensive midfielder of the nation.”
In the long friendship that he and Li Yongle shared, Zhang Yang had only seen that expression on Yongle’s face twice. The first was when he declared his intention to beat Zhang Jun on the soccer field after that fight; this was the second time. Did he just raise his ambition from beating Zhang Jun to becoming the best defensive midfielder of the nation? Zhang Yang smiled as he remembered the scene that day―this teenage troublemaker used to get into fights and played truant every other day in middle school. Now, he was sweating profusely as he ran incessantly across greened grounds with the mindset of becoming the best defensive midfielder of the nation.
After that, the second half began. Li Yongle’s movements were even more vicious and there were times that his challenges bordered on plain fouls. Lin Ling suffered in silence under his hands―it was just 15 minutes worth of rest, but his aura had changed so much, he now resembled a lion; there was simply so much fight in him that he looked ready to blow.
Lin Ling was dispossessed once more by Li Yongle with a sliding tackle. The ball fell to Liu Chao who carried it up next to the sidelines. When two opponents approached, he quickly passed it back to Li Yongle who ran up alongside him. With a one-two pass with Zhang Yulin, Li Yongle dashed forward with the ball. Even Zhao Defeng was struggling to understand; it was his first time seeing Li Yongle joining in on the attack under his own initiative.
Li Yongle reached the edge of the area and passed the ball to his captain. Despite that, he kept running ahead. Not bothering to linger on why his teammate was brimming with fighting spirit, he sent the ball back to Yongle―a second one-two!
Inside the box and despite a forest of legs in front of him, Yongle still managed to find an opening to the bottom left corner of the goal. He raised his leg to shoot!
The ball flew towards his target, never leaving the ground. And with his vision blocked by those in front of him, it was too late for the Tong Xing keeper when he finally saw where the ball was going. He attempted a diving save, but the ball went into the net just one step ahead of him.
“Goal!” After scoring, the typically quiet Li Yongle exploded with a rare roar.
Li Yongle had scored his first goal in his high school soccer career―a goal that most certainly sealed the win for his team. From making off with the ball and scoring by himself, he took the first steps towards his dream.
While the game was essentially decided, Lin Ling was not about to give up. It was his final year and he would not let it end like this. He risked being injured as he made an aggressive break for it, away from Li Yongle’s sliding tackle, lobbing the ball over Deng Rui.
“He’s gonna pass!” Luo Bin shouted to stop Zhang Yang, who was running up for a block.
With a whirl of his feet, Lin Ling volleyed the ball inside the box! It was a shot! Lin Ling, who usually passed the ball unselfishly made a shot himself!
“Oh no…” Luo Bin was not able to finish his sentence as the ball flew to the upper right corner of the goal.
Zhang Lintao dived to the side and pushed the ball out towards the baseline with a wonderful one-hand save.
Luo Bin, who was still feeling the jitters, patted Lintao on the back. “Many thanks!”
The keeper merely beat the dust off his body and said matter-of-factly, “There wouldn’t even be a corner if he didn’t shoot so suddenly.”
Lin Ling stared in shock at the opposition’s keeper. He thought that his effort was perfect―it was a surprise shot, coupled with the angle, power and speed. Somehow it was still saved by the goalie who went on to say what essentially meant: if it had not been for the lack of preparation, the ball would have been caught without much fuss. He was obviously underestimating him!
On the stands, Zhou Peng was alarmed.
That’s not good! Lin Ling has made a shot on the goal by himself! That semi-final a year ago, Lin Ling did not even make an attempt on the goal. He merely organized the team’s offensive in total calmness. Shooting is not his specialty. If this keeps on, Tong Xing will crumble!
Of course, Lin Ling would not have been able to hear his thoughts. He only had one thought, I’m angry! Would all his three years not be a waste if he was being belittled by a first year? You think my shots are easy saves? Then I’ll let you have a taste! He clenched his teeth and his face displayed visible anger.
Li Yongle noticed and knew at once that Lin Ling would not be much of a threat anymore. When the other team’s No. 10 tried to score earlier, he had managed to catch Zhang Lintao by surprise. He knew what his own goalkeeper was capable of after playing together with him for two months. There were 83 members in the Zhongyuan soccer team―and after setting aside the five goalies―the remaining 78 outfield players had never scored from the outside box against him. Even their team’s best shooter, Zhang Yuchao had his 25-m shots blocked. For a person who had such an iron grip on the goalkeeper’s position to be in a team like Zhongyuan’s, how could he concede against just anyone?
Zhang Jun was fouled and fell for the umpteenth time; it was perfectly reasonable that he would be given such “great care” by the opponents after his performance in the last two games. Whenever he got possession, the opponents would use any means necessary to stop him from entering the box, including fouling him. On the last few occasions however, he would quickly pick himself up after falling―but this time, he was not able to stand.
The referee whistled to summon the medical officers onto the pitch. After Zhang Jun was stretchered off the field, his boots as well as knee-high socks were removed and dumped aside.
Liang Ke was appalled at the sight of Zhang Jun’s purpling right ankle. “How did this happen?” He pinched that region of the foot lightly and Zhang Jun gritted his teeth in terrible pain.
Yang Pan looked at the swollen bone and searched his memory of the past week―stopping at the first goal of the match against their opponents seven days ago.
With a whirl of his foot he shot the ball precisely to Zhang Jun, who welcomed it with a volley that went in with a loud bang. That bang. He knew how powerful his own foot was and so did Zhang Jun―it had knocked goalposts down and sent goalkeepers into the net along with the ball. It was no laughing matter to divert the shot head-on, but Zhang Jun did. How could his foot not be hurt? Then, there was the further intensive training they went through for the past week. Even Xie Yu, who had the best stamina within the team, was left gasping for air, much less Zhang Jun who was injured? With the current game, the opponent’s rough style of play and the fouls on him, his injury would have surely…
When Zhang Jun suggested the idea to Yang Pan himself, he believed that it was an impossible feat. But the idiot still did it―did he really not think about the consequences? Was it only to break the stalemate? What other reason was there? And in that moment, Yang Pan raised his head to see Su Fei’s concerned gaze and realized something. He sighed and returned to the pitch.
Zhang Jun was not coming back into the game. As expected, the signboard was lifted pitch-side: Shu Guang, No.11, out; Liu Lei, No.16, in.
A striker was subbed off for a defensive midfielder as Liang Ke made a change to the team formation.
Liu Lei conveyed the coach’s intentions as soon as he got into the field. “Yang Pan, Ren Yu De! You two are moving up to the striker’s position!”
The pair compiled and Shu Guang went from a 442 formation to 433. It appeared that Liang Ke did not make the shift out of helplessness; the coach always reminded himself that Zhang Rui was already a third-year student and he was leaving soon. What would happen when he left? Furthermore, Ren Yu De’s skills and Yang Pan’s speed were a good fit for strikers; pushing them up front with twenty-five minutes left may just yield surprising results.
After keeping Zhang Jun company for a while, Su Fei returned to her seat―she was not to be overly concerned of a single player as manager. That was why she had to stay on her task of keeping records despite her worries.
She noted the incident down in her notebook:
“No.11, Zhang Jun, subbed off due to injury in the fifty-fifth minute.”