Chapter 61: Embrace
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Ma Ni was still running and attempting his 90 Degrees move. But, if it was not done at the right angle, he would end up knocking the ball too far off; if it was not that, it would be slipping and splashing into the mud himself. However hateful he was before, he was nothing less than a pathetic worm at the moment.
Four minutes passed and the scores stayed at 2: 2.
Still, anyone watching, who had basic knowledge of soccer would know that Shu Guang had complete advantage over the game at this point. A comeback was just a matter of time.
There were Yingcai students, who were already leaving their seats. The miracle they were banking on was beginning to crumble. Although their disadvantage still looked slight at the moment, their crumbling would soon gain momentum and become a full-fledged avalanche. When that happened, the success they built from utilitarianism would be completely destroyed and buried.
It had always been a matter of time.
As time flowed with the rain, another two minutes passed.
Sima Hongxin was deeply troubled. He could no longer catch the ball during his saves and his breaths were short as well as rapid; his body suddenly felt like it weighed a ton and his movements were all over the place.
The keeper was not so ragged after conceding the first goal; he was probably still troubled by how the second one went in. How could such a huge ball suddenly vanish and appear behind Zhang Jun, then at the back of the net? There were just so many questions.
The entire Yingcai team were on the defense, hoping that they could extend the game into extra time and penalties. Only Ma Ni was left up front.
In that moment, their team felt like a dying man, grasping for straws in his very last breath. It would have been more merciful to shoot them in the chest than watch them suffer.
But the story did not seem to have a desire to be dictated, and soccer proved its charm once again. There was no telling what the ultimate results would be, up until the last second.
The referee blew his whistle and sprinted madly towards Shu Guang’s penalty area; his fingers were pointed at the penalty spot, where Ma Ni lay!
In truth, Ma Ni himself had fallen to the ground. While he was dribbling, he slipped outside the box and fell into the box. It was as if the referee wanted to prove he was still alive to everyone.
Penalty! An irrevocable penalty had been given!
There was a brief moment of silence before the stands ripped out in waves of cheers. The Yingcai players, who had been hopelessly stuck in quicksand seemed to have caught on to a branch—their eyes filled with hope.
Lin Xiaofang, whom Ma Ni had brought down together with him tried to assert his innocence to the referee.
“There’s no way that was a penalty! He fell outside the area and I never touched him! He dragged me down when he slipped!”
His teammates were helping him argue his case too, in hopes that the bribed official would somehow revoke his decision. Nevertheless. he never uttered a word and stood on the spot as he gestured for the Shu Guang players to leave. If they refused, he would bring out his butcher knife.
“Back off!” An Ke stood there and shouted angrily, “Back off! Let him take it!”
The Shu Guang goalie stood between the two posts and readied himself. His teammates backed off at his words, and retreated outside the area.
Ma Ni stepped on the penalty spot and placed the ball on it.
The pitch became quiet all of a sudden; only the rain could be heard.
An Ke lowered his hips, but he did not look at Ma Ni’s ankle or the ball. Instead, he stared ferociously into Ma Ni’s eyes until the referee blew his whistle.
Ma Ni ran up to the ball!
And An Ke began to move!
A shot was taken! With a splash of the muddy water, the ball flew towards the bottom left corner!
An Ke dived to the exact place at the same time!
He managed to get his glove to it! An Ke’s single-handed save swept the ball to the left, saving in the process!
But it was not over. Yingcai still had a chance to fire in the rebound!
Lin Xiaofang was already dashing into the area as soon as Ma Ni raised his foot. The ball fell to him and he quickly turned, clearing it far out into midfield. It was a dangerous moment, but he never forgot that he had to create chances for his attackers even as he defended.
Because, Zhang Jun was still up front.
An Ke rose from the ground and howled. Far ahead, Zhang Jun handled the long ball beautifully. He turned and accelerated in a single stroke!
The match was going to end in seven minutes.
Zhang Jun relied on his speed and stunning explosiveness as he thundered forward with the ball, keeping his body balanced throughout. Half of the Yingcai players were still on the other half of the pitch. There were just two center backs and one goalkeeper in front of him now.
He would bring them nothing less than absolute hell and desolation!
He lowered his shoulders to the left and circled the ball with his right foot. One of the defenders thought Zhang Jun was going to the right, and he followed. But Zhang Jun was merely whirling his foot around the ball, not touching it. He quickly nudged it to the left and accelerated, leaving his marker, who was still trying to make sense of things behind.
He got past one of them!
He would give Ma Ni a slap in the face in victory!
There was no way the second defender would run away; he had to face the attacker head on. He growled to embolden himself and he proceeded to slide in with a tackle.
Running at full speed, Zhang Jun stopped and moved his right foot to the front. He prodded the ball past his oncoming opponent with his left foot. He had hidden the ball between his legs and the Yingcai defender missed it just by mere inches. Zhang Jun then jumped over the defender!
Kaka was stunned.
“Hey, that’s my move…”
Zhang Jun landed and chased the ball; one step and he was in the box!
He was about to score a hat-trick to seal his life’s happiness!
Sima Hongxin left his line!
And Su Fei rose from her seat.
Zhang Jun did not shoot, instead he shifted directions towards the near corner. Sima Hongxin kept up with him although the shot-stopper refrained from reaching out as long as the ball was at his feet.
Seconds before Sima Hongxin cut him off all angles, Zhang Jun swayed and stumbled towards the baseline!
Sima Hongxin dived out without a shred of hesitation!
In the blur of an eye, Zhang Jun, who should have lost his focus suddenly picked the ball up with his right foot. The ball flew over Hongxin towards the empty net!
Panicking, the keeper tried to block it, but he only managed to catch the air! He turned promptly to see the ball deflect off the far post on the way in!
It was in! It was in!
Without looking at the referee or confirming that the goal was indeed awarded, Zhang Jun leaped up from the ground and sprinted towards the technical area.
There was no telling where he got such legs. Even Yang Pan could not catch to him using a shortcut. The striker blew past his skipper like a wind. With his arms wide opened, he prepared to dive towards Liang Ke for a flying embrace.
There were incessant camera flashes from the cameramen who persisted and stayed beside the pitch; they finally got an angle they wanted: “Ace Striker and Coach Embrace in Victory!”
It was then that a single inexplicable move by Su Fei foiled everything. What she did changed everything from that point forward. Many who remembered this moment years later in nostalgic recollection would dub it “a match made in heaven”.
Still, nobody knew what was going in even as was unfolding before their eyes. In one incomprehensible move, Su Fei stepped in front of Liang Ke, stunning both the coach and the incoming Zhang Jun, who were prepared for an enthusiastic bear hug.
Liang Ke was clueless about what to do.
Zhang Jun was already in the air and it was too late to pull back.
Then, it happened.
Under the wild, flashing cameras of the photojournalists, Zhang Jun and Su Fei held each other firmly.
Fortunately, Liang Ke was behind her and to hold her up, otherwise the pair would have dropped on the dirt.
The embrace was precise, emotional and of perfection. Those who did not know the truth would simply assume that they were madly in love and hugging under broad light. They were just a couple without a care for the stares surrounding them.
Everyone was speechless.
Even Yang Pan, the one who knew Zhang Jun’s very train of thought was speechless. He knew that despite his friend’s occasional impudent speech, he would not have been able to do such an “uncouthed” move even if his friend had taken out a blood loan.
Zhang Jun’s face was covered by his drooping hair while Su Fei had her head in Zhang Jun’s chest. However, this was all involuntary. Nobody could tell the expression on their faces.
The flashes continued in an orderly manner, recording everything on film.
Su Fei could hear his deep breaths and feel his rushed, powerful heartbeats. She could not tell if it was warm sweat or raindrops that were dripping down her own neck. She believed that he was sensing the same things too, although she could not quite understand why she stepped out in the first place.
Her body was in his arms—that heartbeat, breath and bodily warmth felt so close. So, that was how wonderful it felt to have a girl in your arms. It was an accident, but Zhang Jun was now reluctant to let go, holding her even more tightly as time passed.
That was until someone coughed.
He awkwardly released her in an instant, already missing the warmth.
After they parted, Zhang Jun finally saw his team’s weirded-out expressions. Not quite knowing what to say, he kept repeating, “It was an acccident! An accident! An accident…”
Liang Ke suddenly spread his arms and hugged him affectionately. “Good kid! Here, let’s celebrate that gorgeous goal!”
Yang Pan reacted too, diving at his friend when Zhang Jun finally freed himself from the coach’s energetic hold. “Come here! Let’s hug it out too!”
And then to the goal scorer’s bewilderment, almost every other Shu Guang player seemed to be rushing at him for a hug. In reality, they were thinking that his body had to be carrying Su Fei’s warmth and smell. It led them to believe that they would be embracing with the “Su Fei” that remained on his body.
Were they not allowed to lick the bowl since they could not get a taste of the broth? As such, the Zhang Jun “bowl” was licked as much as humanly possible.
Chen Huafeng was smiling on the stands too. “Nice one, kid! So direct!”
In the remaining six minutes, Shu Guang would keep the ball firmly at their feet whenever they secured possession. They did not grant Yingcai a chance to flip the scores, or the referee an opening to blow the whistle for a foul.
And in those six minutes, the Yingcai crowd shuffled off the pitch in a disorderly manner. Others stayed behind and turned against the “spineless” Yingcai players, treating their own team the same way they treated Shu Guang before the game.
Provoked, the players changed their focus from the game itself to accusing one another while they were still on the pitch. Ma Ni stood alone, lost like a raft without a direction.
The black horse miracle borne of utilitarianism crumbled in the face of Zhang Jun’s hat-trick. Their fame did not matter anymore; the whole team looked like a bunch of pitiful clowns at that point.
As the referee begrudgingly sounded the final whistle, Shu Guang exploded like a volcano in fanatical celebration. Every boy shouted without restraint to release their gloom, which had been caused by the bribed referee. They celebratef their triumph against the Ant!
Amid the cheers, Ma Ni knelt down sullenly.
The rain was getting heavy, but the game was over. It was all over.