Would You Mind If I Play? - Chapter 23[Updated at: 2021-01-11 03:57:21]
Chapter 23: The Kings vs the Dark Horse
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The game was a quarter-final match like any other, but there were well over 20 reporters attending; the sight of their heavy camera racks pitch side could stop the heart of any person who was not familiar with the ways of the world; and the press were here simply because the match was between the indisputable king, Zhongyuan Technical High and the dark horse of the year, Shu Guang High. The latter had turned into a team that drew much expectation and everyone who came to watch the game carried a sliver of hope for them.
On the stands of Shu Guang’s soccer field, their cheerleading team appeared in full regalia, waving flags and a wide assortment of their team’s slogan. They chanted cheers for their team unceasingly. While most of the journalists present treated it as an ordinary sight, only Chen Huafeng told his photographer to take over ten photos of the scene in a flurry of shutter noises―he knew what this meant to the Shu Guang team who had been long treated as utterly unremarkable. Perhaps years from now, those photographs would become nostalgic vintages.
Looking at Liu Qi who was strenuously swinging a flag on the stands, Zhang Jun felt something indescribable. It had only been two months; why was he feeling so sentimental?
An Ke’s voice shook him out of his reverie, “They’re here!”
Their sight was soon stuffed with the luxury coaches of the Zhongyuan team.
“One, two, three, four, five! Wowza!” An Ke shrieked. “They’re here for our lives! Zhong Xin was already extravagant enough, but even they only had three. This time it’s five!”
“It’s nothing to be shocked about,” Yang Pan said as he listened to music. “Soccer is played by 11 people. There’s no use even if there’s more.”
“I agree,” Ren Yu De uttered through chews of bubble gum, his face an expression of zero nervousness. “Each team can only field 11 players, everything depends on them. As the home team, I don’t think our loss is predetermined.”
“Really? Rationally speaking, it should be the older ones who are unfazed by anything, instead it’s the younger one who are feeling fearless. What a mess of the natural order!” Xie Yu poked in next to them as he stared at the first-years who were idly chatting away.
“Nervous?” Su Li asked.
“I would be lying if I wasn’t!” Li Jieguang answered for Xie. “Our opponents are giants of the national high school soccer scene! Many teams would feel their knees cave in just from hearing their name!”
“Does that mean your knees have caved?” Li Xiaopeng teased.
“Ridiculous! Why would they? And in front of the first-years? It’d be humiliating!”
Liang Ke watched his team happily. Li Jieguang was right that many would lose their will to fight just from hearing that very name: “Zhongyuan”―but he did not see it happen to his team today. It would have been natural for them to feel nervous; this was their first time playing on such a stage and bearing the expectations of so many people. While others believed that such pressures could overburden them and prevent them from playing normally, the smiles among the squad let him know that this was not a problem for them.
At the Zhongyuan team’s arrival, the reporters went wild and swarmed towards the buses, throwing endless questions for the players who had just alighted. Li Yongle, who exploded into stardom by stopping Lin Ling completely in their last match was given “special attention”.
“Li Yongle, after your successful defense against Lin Ling in the last match, are you confident you can stop the Shu Guang attack in this game?”
“I don’t think I should be the one answering this question.”
“Li Yongle, after scoring your first goal in the last game, will you score another in this round?”
“It depends,” Li Yongle responded while he tried to squeeze himself out of the mob.
“Li Yongle, it’s said that the opponent’s top striker, Zhang Jun will not be playing; you have always been the one stopping your opponents’ arrows, what changes will there be in your task this time?”
Li stopped promptly and turned. The person who asked the question was Zhou Peng, who often went to his school for interviews. “Is that true? Zhang Jun isn’t playing?”
The reporter nodded. “Liang Ke, the opposing team’s coach has said so. So, what will be your task?”
With a somber face Li finally answered, “To win this game!”
And with those words, he ignored the badgering from the reporters and fought his way into the locker room.
Zhao Defeng patted him on his bagpack. “How is it? Feeling like a star now?” Instead of getting a retort, he got Li Yongle’s darkened and silent expression. Li’s face at that time would have put the fear of God in anyone.
The players were placing their belongings into the lockers before changing into their jerseys. Sitting down beside Li, Zhang Yang asked, “Zhang Jun can’t play?”
“Never mind! You still have two more years, what’s there to be afraid about? He won’t run away!”
“I know, but now that I realize I still have to wait for two years, I’m pissed!”
“You’ve already waited for half a year; there’s nothing in waiting for one more year.” Zhang Yang soothed him. “Stop letting your mind wander, and focus on the game.”
Li nodded. “Wait, shouldn’t you be more worried than me! Your opponent this game is Yang Pan!”
“…Argh!” his teammate yelped. “I forgot…”.
In the host team’s locker room.
“There is nothing for me to say; Zhongyuan is a very powerful team. All of you, look at this match schedule and remember how our last few games have been won. Do whatever you can in this game to achieve victory!”
The locker room was silent.
As he stared at the fixture list, Zhang Jun remembered the night he saw Su Fei bent over on all fours to draw the huge graph. He was not going to play this time; he did as Liang Ke told. But then, his mind went even further to recall the day he first came to this school, the day he joined the soccer team and the days that led up to the present with every single detail attached, Su Fei’s smile and her line, “I like soccer”, the hat-trick in the warm-up match as well as Liu Qi and the huge flag with “victory” written over it.
It had just been two months, but it felt like it had been a very long time.
The away team’s locker room.
“I will say this again, Shu Guang is not a weak team. Any form of underestimating will put us at a disadvantage. Play the game as if it’s the final. Li Yongle, since Zhang Jun will not be playing, you can focus more on offense and register more attempts at the goal!”
Li nodded slowly.
Sun Laihong’s eyes swept across the players, before saying, “Our objective is the entire nationals. Pay all dues and achieve your dreams!”
The whole arena thundered with cheers when the two teams stepped outside the preparation rooms and into the field. This was the first time that the Shu Guang team heard cheers intended for them; starting from today, they were no longer the Shu Guang of old.
Li Yongle watched Zhang Jun, who sat expressionlessly on the bench; there was no telling what he was thinking. Li himself was not calm.
When I asked you about it yesterday, you said you had no problems with jogging―but today you’re on the bench like all’s right in the world. What the hell?
Zhang Jun watched Li Yongle, who stood expressionlessly in the field; there was no telling what he was thinking and Zhang Jun was not calm. He very much desired to play, to sprint, to shoot, to enjoy those cheers. But the doctor said that the damn injury needed at least 10 days for a full recovery.
Zhongyuan got the initiative but allowed Shu Guang to take the kick-off. Both teams stood in formation and waited for the referee’s whistle to signal the start of the match.
Without any photographing duties left, Chen Huafeng could finally climb the stands and watch the game. Zhou Peng sat down beside him.
“How was the interview?”
“Only managed one question. When I told him Zhang Jun wasn’t playing, his face became terrifying.”
“That means the rumors are true, Li Yongle wants to play against Zhang Jun.”
“Yup, I’ve checked. They never met on the middle school level, so there’s really no telling where all that tension is coming from.”
“Still, a selling point of the game vanishes with Zhang Jun’s absence. Such a shame…”
The entire stadium went quiet as everyone waited.
The referee looked at his watch once more―it was 3.00pm sharp.
And the match began!