“At the 38th minute of the match, the first to take the lead is, unbelievably, Nottingham Forest! This is quite surprising! Look at the faces of Barcelona’s players. They can’t believe it!”
Puyol covered his face with both hands. It was exactly his own misjudgment that had given his opponents the chance for the goal.
As Barcelona’s players were despairing, Forest’s players were hugging each other in the rain. Having gotten the lead in such a disadvantageous situation had greatly boosted the morale of the team. Their original thoughts of losing the match because they were a player down were thrown cleanly out of their minds.
Tony Twain’s football team feared no opponent, whether it was Barcelona or Real Madrid. They also did not care if they had 11 players or 10 battling, what the weather was like, or which side the media was leaning toward prior to the match.
Seeing Pepe head the ball into Barcelona’s goal, Forest’s substitutes’ bench and manager’s seat erupted suddenly with loud cheers. Kerslake took the lead in rushing out.
Tang En also jumped up, throwing his arms out in celebration.
But very quickly, his hands dropped again. The smile on his face gradually stiffened. No matter how excited the people were beside him, it became impossible for him to muster up a smile.
He had watched the finals of the Champions League. Although he could not remember the details of it, he would not forget a moment as significant as a scored goal.
In the 18th minute, Lehmann was penalized with a red card because of Eto’o. Wenger substituted in reserve goalkeeper Almunia and took out Pirs.
In the 38th minute, the 10-man Arsenal got a lead on Barcelona thanks to Campbell’s header.
Then in the second half
Tang En did not dare to continue down that train of thought.
Once was a coincidence; twice was also a coincidence… thrice It was no longer so simple.
He looked up at the sky. He could not help but feel that this was an extremely strange matter. It was as strange as how he had transmigrated here from 2007 to become a football manager.
It was as if there was a pair of unseen hands toying with them.
“Tony! Tony! Have you gone silly? We’re leading!” David Kerslake excitedly smacked Tang En, who was in a daze, waking him up.
“Ah, that’s right. We’re leading leading!” Tang En nodded in response. “But the match hasn’t ended. It isn’t time to rejoice yet. Barcelona’s offense is very strong. We’ll have to deal with it carefully.”
“Now that we’ve taken the lead, we can return to the strategy we’re best at, and what we’re used to,” Kerslake said with a laugh. “Defending. We have to let those bastards looking down on us see our prowess!”
The assistant manager was in a much better mood than the main manager.
“You’re right, David. We do need to start defending.”
The singing of Nottingham Forest’s fans drifted in from the spectator’s stands. It became louder and louder. Even the noisy splashes of the rain could not cover it up. The same went for the jeers coming from Barcelona’s fans.
At that moment, happiness belonged to the supporters of Nottingham Forest.
“In England, there has always been this saying. Despite Manager Tony’s lack of admittance to it, he is, in fact, considered to be the successor to the legendary manager, Brian Clough. Just a simple example: Brian Clough led Nottingham Forest to complete a three-grade jump in three years. From League Two to the First Division champions, and again to the champions of the Champions League. And Manager Tony Twain has perfectly replicated that scene with the current Forest Team. Just two seasons before, they were only a participating team of the EFL Championship. At that time, it wasn’t called that, it was called the Football League First Division. A year ago, they were promoted to the English Premier League and attained the qualification to participate in the Champions League. And today, they have fought their way into the finals of the UEFA Champions League! They are leading with a score of 1:0; even the score is the same! Tonight, can his football team successfully defeat Barcelona and replicate that miraculous era in its entirety?”
Wishes were beautiful things, but it was not so easy to realize them.
After all, Clough’s Forest Team had not been penalized with one player less during their finals.
After the match restarted, Forest returned to defending. Only Viduka was left in front. Players in the backfield mostly launched powerful long passes in search of Viduka’s head when they got the ball. Playing in that way made the match extremely unentertaining. But it was very useful at exactly this time and this sort of situation. Tang En did not care how the others would look at it. He only wanted the resulting victory.
Since Forest had retreated to defend, Barcelona, naturally, did not stand on ceremony. They pressed forward heavily in the hopes of equalizing the score as quickly as possible. Getting behind in the score when they had a player more was unbearable for the proud and arrogant Barcelona players.
“Barcelona has begun surrounding Nottingham Forest in the attack. The match has returned to the same situation as before Forest scored the goal. Now, the ball is in Ronaldinho’s possession.”
Albertini dashed in front of the Brazilian. Earlier, when they celebrated the goal, he and Arteta had communicated shortly, changing to have the more experienced Albertini guard against the opponent’s core.
Ronaldinho looked at Albertini in front of him. His positioning was excellent; it made him think twice about attempting a breakthrough.
However, as the midfield core, he was not limited to only knowing how to break through. Other than his incredible skills in dribbling, another reason Ronaldinho was able to become the world’s number one midfielder after Zidane was his ability in passing.
With a twist of his behind, he faked a movement and made Albertini focus on preventing his breakthrough. And then, he instead passed the ball to Eto’o in front of the penalty area.
Eto’o leaned against Piqu, who was defending against him. He did not kill the ball. Rather, he directly nudged the ball towards his own left, swiftly spinning around at the same time.
The explosive power of the African cheetah was shocking; in a blink of an eye, he had left Piqu behind.
Breaking through in a turn, he was faced with Paul Gerrard and shot at the goal.
Piqu’s tackle appeared as a ceremonial sort of interruption; it had no real effect at all. At this point, Paul Gerrard became the savior of the team. He timely intervened, blocking the angle of Eto’o’s shot. And then, at the brink of danger, he stretched out his hand and managed to hit the ball.
The football changed direction and hit the goalpost, bouncing out!
Loud sighs rang through the stadium.
But it was not over!
The ball had bounced back. Eto’o was on the ground and could not get a rebound shot in time. Suddenly, Ronaldinho, who had been outside the penalty area, appeared inside. Faced with the rebounding football, he drew back his leg, intending to do a direct volley.
At that moment, the slippery ground lent a hand to Forest’s fate. Just as Ronaldinho drew his right foot back, his supporting leg slipped and caused him to completely lose his balance. His body fell to the left and the drawn right foot did not manage to contact the soccer ball, brushing right past it!
Albertini, who had been chasing after him, hastily cleared the ball from the area.
Sighs sounded once again.
“Ronaldinho what a pity! Eto’o’s shot got intervened by Paul Gerrard at the most crucial point, changing its direction. It hit the goalpost, and Ronaldinho’s rebound shot failed to get in contact with the ball.”
“That bastard, he’s too fast” Piqu was still grumbling as he climbed up from the ground. He had thought boxing out his opponent would give him no opportunity; unexpectedly, Eto’o had used the most direct method to break through. With just a turn, he was able to threaten the goal.
After getting up, Piqu saw the anxiety on Gerrard’s face. His taut face looked like his strung-out nerves. As the regulations dictated that a goalkeeper must be in the list of reserves, his appearance in the team list was quite possibly to make up for the numbers. He himself did not expect any opportunity to be fielded. For such an important match, Edwin van der Sar was surely the starter. And goalkeeping was the most secure position. It was extremely rare for there to be injury or sickness He knew his own capabilities. It was impossible for him to play in this match, absolutely impossible.
Paul Gerrard’s heart was racing. When he saw the football fly towards him earlier, his heart had leaped into his throat. He only felt his knees weaken, dropping his knees onto the ground. Of course, he knew that he had managed to touch the ball, but touching the ball was not the same as saving it. Those were two entirely different things.
The ball eventually hit the goalpost and did not bounce in. He had managed to save Eto’o’s shot. Even so, his racing heart did not settle.
Of course, Piqu could understand how Paul must be feeling. As a reserve goalkeeper who did not often get the opportunity to be fielded, the pressure he felt having to substitute Edwin van der Sar in guarding their goal for the Champions League’s finals must be no mere trifle. No matter his abilities, fate had made him Forest’s goalkeeper in this match. They must trust him and encourage him, allowing him to perform to his best standards
“Good job, Paul” Piqu patted Gerrard’s shoulder and pulled him up. “You saved me.” He was right. If Eto’o had gotten the ball in, Gerrard did not have to be responsible for anything. Rather, Piqu would have to be held responsible for his failed defense.
Albertini ran back as well and patted Paul Gerrard. “Well done.”
The encouragement from his teammates finally managed to ease Gerrard’s anxiety.
“I’m insisting on my opinion. Paul Gerrard is not a player who can create miracles. However, at the very least, he is doing well at this moment. He managed to defend against the most threatening attack from Barcelona in the first half of the match.”
That was indeed the most threatening attack from Barcelona in the first half; not long after, the main referee blew the ending whistle for the first half.
After getting off the field, Albertini found the main referee and inquired about Edwin van der Sar’s penalty for the foul. He felt that the referee’s sentence was overly harsh. While Edwin van der Sar should have received a red card in accordance with the rules, the match had only been going for 18 minutes. Fouling out the primary goalkeeper of Forest Team like that… Albertini felt that the sentence should have been reconsidered.
The main referee politely responded to Albertini with a few sentences but did not wish to continue going back and forth about a past penalty. Albertini, as well, sensibly shook hands with the referee and left.
Only Tang En continued glaring in annoyance at the main referee, who walked off the field with his two assistant referees. Edwin van der Sar’s foul out was certain to be the turning point in this match. If they lost the match, Tang En would be holding a grudge against that referee for life.
“The first half of the match has ended. Barcelona, who has the upper hand, is now behind Nottingham Forest, who has a player less. They tried all means but failed to score an equalizer. Rijkaard should do some adjustments during halftime. As for Nottingham Forest, despite playing such reserved footballthe kind we hate watchingI still must applaud the courage of this team. In the disadvantaged situation of having a player down, they instead managed to take the lead against Barcelona. This is rather remarkable for manager Tony Twain’s first time leading a team into the Champions League’s finals.”
The commentator’s evaluation was fair and objective.
Tang En turned furiously and walked towards the corridors. He did not notice that the rain was slowly letting up.
In the locker room, Forest’s players were all panting for air. After taking off their wet shirts and throwing them on the ground, they immediately plopped down and sat to rest.
Having a man down, playing in the rain, having tremendously strong opponents, and facing continuous frenzied attacks; the psychological stress expended large amounts of their stamina.
Edwin van der Sar was still blaming himself for the foul. Perhaps if he had just let Eto’o pass him at that moment and allowed Barcelona that single goal, they might still have the opportunity to equalize the score or even overtake it with an intact team. He sat in front of his locker in silence.
Tang En pushed the door open and entered. He looked at the audience. Other than panting, there were no other sounds in the locker room. No one said anything. Everyone was quiet.
Their mental state was not too good.
“Hey, what is this? Are we behind?” Tang En asked. “Why do you all look dispirited? Aren’t we leading Barcelona by a goal? It’s Barcelona! The Barcelona who has been praised to the skies before the match, who triumphs in every battle and wins every fight, who is the world’s number one; Barcelona, the epitome of perfection! La Liga champions who beat up Real Madrid until they couldn’t tell where North was, and who swept through Continental Europe and set off the crazed trend for attacking football, who has the world’s best midfielder superstar, Ronaldinho, and who has one player more godd**n than us We’re leaning against a pretty damn invincible team! What do you all have to be unhappy about? So many media outlets were stirring up the matter of George Wood’s absence before the match as if Nottingham Forest became nothing without George! In the end? Do you know what I want to do most now? I want to slap that group of bastards! You all did very well, every one of you did well. What is there to be silent about?”
At that point, a creak sounded from behind Tang En. George Wood opened the door and walked in.
Tang En turned to look at Wood while the latter stood at the door looking back. The two stared at each other.
Thinking back on what Tang En had just been saying, the locker room went still for about two seconds before suddenly erupting with peals of laughter.
“Weren’t you watching the match from above with your mother?” Tang En asked, feeling odd.
Wood nodded. “I wanted to come down to take a look”
Looking at the expression on Wood’s face, Tang En laughed. “You aren’t too used to sitting in the luxury box to watch the match, right? Come on in.” He waved Wood in.
Wood entered and sat in a corner.
Albertini stood up. “Boss I think everyone is so quiet because they’re tired.” After saying so, he turned around and looked at his teammates, hoping they would stand out to agree with him.
So, a group of them immediately nodded furiously. “That’s right, that’s right. We’re too tired after all, we are down a person, Boss.”
“Alright. I accept that explanation. I only hope for everyone to understand that no matter what terrible situation we are facing, I don’t want to see that despairing look.” He tapped the tactical board. “Let’s talk about what we should do in the second half.”
“Because they are now behind, Barcelona will strengthen their offense in the second half.” Tang En carefully searched his mind for the two goals scored by Barcelona in the second half. “We must watch out for Eto’o. We’re doing very well in the defense for the center. They haven’t got many chances, so in the second half, we have to be wary of attacks coming in from the opponent’s wings.”
“And if Barcelona keeps on failing to make progress in their situation, they may end up substituting in Larsson, a tremendously experienced forward. Be careful of his ability to set up plays.”
The two goals Barcelona scored off Arsenal were all related to Larsson. That was his most glorious moment in that season. Tang En believed that so long as they suppressed Larsson’s performance, they would be able to successfully change the results.
“Everyone, we are already beating Barcelona. Those who didn’t look well upon us before the match can go to hell! I’d tell you, it’s not the most popular team who will become champions! It’s also not the one with the greatest support from the media who will be the strongest!” In the depths of Tang En’s heart, perhaps he was still somewhat worried about the future of a match that was turning out remarkably like the past. However, in front of his players, Tang En did not show his worry at all. He waved his fists around to cheer for the ten-man team that was to set off into battle. Using his own words, he encouraged the players to create miracles in the match.
“A football competition is a competition for results. In the end, whoever wins is the strongest! Now that we are beating Barcelona, we are stronger than them!”