When Wood and Zidane shook hands before the game, he carefully observed the Frenchman. Before the game, he had heard a lot about the man. There were many legends about him. What people talked about the most were the two headers in the World Cup final in France and that sky-high volley in the 2002 Champions League final.
Ribry was the person who said the most because he had just gotten along with Zidane in the France national team games. Zidane was a living legend to him. He always thought he could only watch him from afar. He had not expected to have the opportunity to be in close contact with him and train with him for competitions. And now they had become opponents.
Ribry seriously described to Wood how formidable Zidane was. Wood had asked at that time, more powerful than Riquelme?
Ribry laughed heartily for a long time before he answered Wood. They are not at the same level.
Now, Wood had a distinct impression of him. He had not had a real sense of him when others had told him how powerful Zidane was before. But with Ribry’s comparison, he understood. He had experienced firsthand how good Riquelme was. If Zidane was more powerful than Riquelme, he had to deal with him seriously.
The 33-year-old Zidane was no longer that young guy from AS Cannes. People had always said he was balding. Now he was actually bald.
The Real Madrid players were very serious when they shook hands with the Forest players. Even the cheerful and optimistic Roberto Carlos’ face was taut.
They obviously knew how important this game was.
After losing to Barcelona, everyone was under a lot of pressure. If they lost to Nottingham Forest again, they did not know what kind of storm would await them.
Luxemburgo stood on the sidelines with his arms folded across his chest and gazed towards the field with knitted brows.
In comparison, the visiting Forest team was not under any pressure. Twain told his players before the game that they had to win, but the players did not appear apprehensive.
After a simple ceremony, the players from both teams stood in their respective halves and waited for the kickoff.
Twain walked back to the technical area and sat down.
The referee stood outside the center circle and looked at his watch one last time before the game to confirm the time. When he looked up again, he blew the whistle.
And the game began!
Real Madrid kicked off.
Luxemburgo had deployed the strongest squad he could send for this game.
The goalkeeper was Spain’s number one national goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. The two center backs were Sergio Ramos and Ivan Helguera. On the left and right sides, the two fullbacks were the veterans Roberto Carlos on the left and Mchel Salgado on the right. There were four midfielders, Zidane on the left, Beckham on the right, and Gravesen and Guti in the middle. The two strikers were still Ronaldo and Raul.
There were also Robinho and Baptista sitting on the substitutes’ bench.
Luxemburgo did not have a pair of defensive midfielders in the midfield this time. Having just lost a momentous competition in his home ground, he hoped to use offense to express his goodwill towards the angry Real Madrid fans and save his precarious managerial position.
A banner with the slogan “Get lost, Luxemburgo” had already appeared in the stands of this game.
Consequently, he had two aims for this game. One was to win the game and the other was to win it beautifully.
Real Madrid also traditionally insisted on those two principles. Real Madrid’s football was like that. Victories were commonplace for them and not worth bragging about. Winning beautifully was something they were proud of.
To put it another way, the Bernabu fans might be concerned about how many minutes Casillas could play continuously without conceding a goal. However, they cared more about how many games their strikers could continuously score more than two goals in.
For most other coaches, leading their teams to victory could be considered a great achievement. But for the Real Madrid manager, if he could not lead his team to play well, it would be useless to win more games. There was only one outcome. He might celebrate being the season’s champion in Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles with the people, but the next day, all the major media outlets might be filled with the latest news of his dismissal.
As a result, it was hard to be the manager of Real Madrid.
Luxemburgo had experienced the glory and splendor of being a powerhouse club manager. Now it was his turn to experience the cruelty and ruthlessness of the powerhouse clubs.
“Real Madrid has launched a fierce attack at the Forest team’s interior since the start of the game. It looks like the Brazilian has decided to use offense to destroy the Forest team. How is Manager Tony Twain going to deal with it?” The ESPN commentator asked in the commentary.
How was he going to deal with it?
Twain asked himself that question numerous times.
He knew that Luxemburgo’s style in Real Madrid was defensive counterattacking. However, after he saw Real Madrid’s recent defeat to Barcelona, Twain thought Luxemburgo would not be able to persist with a defensive counterattack tactic which would incite a resounding jeer in Bernabu for the game.
In order to please the fans with his own coaching position, he would definitely let the team press on and attack. They would play the “beautiful football” that the Real Madrid fans liked to watch. In that way, although the pressure on the Forest team’s defense surged, the massive empty tracts behind the Real Madrid defensive line could be exploited.
Twain changed his mind and decided not to engage in an intense exchange with Real Madrid at the Bernabu. The Forest team was currently not Real Madrid’s match in offense, even if this Real Madrid was just a “feeble horse.”
Many teams would face a dilemma when playing against Real Madrid of whether to play offense or defense. Playing offense would mean going head to head with Real Madrid to score, which was too demanding for many teams. But what about defense? They would also worry whether their defensive line could hold up for ninety minutes in the face of Real Madrid’s frenzy of attacks.
But Twain was not worried about that. He understood Real Madrid, and he knew the current Real Madrid.
He knew how to defend against and stop the attacks of Real Madrid’s superstar squad.
And that way was to use high pressing.
The first line of defense was built, starting from the front line. If possession was lost, the players had to mark their opponents right away and immediately intercept the ball. Their movements had to be ruthless and fast. They must utilize physical impact, shovel the ball, take fouls, and use all allowed methods to disrupt Real Madrid’s offensive rhythm. They must force those arrogant superstars to scramble and get flustered.
Then they must end the game with a highly efficient sneak counterattack.
That was what Twain hoped to do.
To that end, he asked Anelka to defend and said that he must counter-intercept immediately. If he could not do it, he would bring him off.
The ball was passed to Zidane’s feet and George Wood immediately rushed up to intercept the ball. He thought that his speed must be so fast that the opponent could not respond in time. In the narrow space on the edge of the sideline, Zidane definitely could not evade him unless he kicked the ball out of bounds.
He did not expect Zidane to suddenly step on the ball, turn 180 degrees, and swing past the side of his feet!
“Wowit’s the Marseille Turn!”
Stunned, Wood sat on the floor and watched Real Madrid’s number five elegantly bypass him.
This was his first exchange with the football legend, and he was defeated!
After he bypassed Wood, Zidane directly passed the ball to Roberto Carlos who plugged in from the flank. The compact Brazilian fullback swiftly plugged in from the back and Chimbonda cut across to block, but Carlos brutally broke through. Carlos jerked the ball forward and then sped forward to skirt around Chimbonda, who still needed to turn.
The cheering in Bernabu stadium began from the moment Zidane swung past Wood, reaching fever pitch when Carlos broke through Chimbonda.
Twain stood up from his seat amidst the deafening cheers.
Roberto Carlos’ glance swept across the penalty area. He glimpsed from the corner of his eye that Chimbonda was back in pursuit, which left him little time.
So, he crossed the ball!
It was a classic Roberto Carlos’ type of cross. It was a powerful volley which sent the football into the Nottingham Forest penalty area. It was chaotic in front of the goal. As long as someone extended his leg to receive the football, there was a high probability of drilling the ball into the Forest team goal.
Raul had poked the ball first but had missed the goal.
The cheers in Bernabu became a sigh.
Nottingham Forest had a narrow escape.
Twain sat back down again.
“Is it asking too much of George to defend against Zidane? Do you want Demetrio to help him?” asked Kerslake after he sat down.
Twain shook his head, “I can’t spare another man. I know that asking Wood to mark Zidane is difficult, but there’s no other way. Let George persevere.”