Chapter 65: Friday
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Yang Pan was still absent from classes on Friday. Zhang Jun knew that he was in Xinxiang for his grandmother’s funeral.
Liang Ke knew that too. He had the starting lineups for Saturday to consider.
Yang Pan was the team captain, a definite starter. It was still not known if he would be back in time and the reserves were a cut below him.
Not that there would be anyone in Luoyang’s high school soccer scene who could replace him either. It was going to be a tough one come tomorrow; how were they going to take down Dingding without a proper team?
Liang Ke thought of changing his formation and adding a defender by shifting into a 5-3-2 arrangement. The coach just felt helpless; there was no backup forward player who could fit into the partnership of their front four.
There was also another problem. He told the team that Yang Pan had taken leave to return to his hometown, but what if he could not get back in time? This was growing in likelihood with every passing moment. How would it affect the team if they—still not in the know—found that their captain was absent when the time came?
It looked like they had to be informed beforehand, so that they could better prepare mentally against the other team despite having a missing captain.
Meanwhile, Zhang Jun had returned to normal—something for Liang Ke to be happy about; they had a 45 % chance of winning at the very least, with him playing as usual. He knew that it was thanks to Su Fei. She was really something else.
The night before, Luoyang’s temperature dropped. The sky was dark as well as gloomy and there were huge gusts of wind, making the weather on the following day unpredictable.
Liang Ke looked to the sky and not a single ray of sunlight was in sight.
He hoped that there would be a huge downpour the next day and that it would stretch on for days. When it ends and the ground finally dries, Yang Pan would have already returned. If that happened, they would have a 65% probability of winning the match.
Those scenarios came from his own delusion. Noting that he was being childish, Liang Ke shook his head and threw those thoughts away. The real cruncher was tomorrow!
The afternoon’s routine was the pre-match relaxation; everyone gathered and chattered in eager anticipation of next day’s game.
What did Xigong Stadium mean to high school soccer teams? The final four of Luoyang, tens of thousands of spectators, live TV broadcasts, live commentary, interviews… Every player who managed to reach that stage would become famous overnight. Their dazzling faces would be seen by hot babes, and when that happened, their happiness was guaranteed to be unstoppable.
Zhang Jun stared blankly at the fixture list as the others chatted noisily. After they saw how poor An Ke ended up yesterday, nobody dared to talk to him—they feared that he would drag another victim to practice penalties or 1v1s.
It was then that “Zhang Jun’s Special Training” ranked third behind “Yang Pan’s long shot” and “Su Fei’s smile” in the soccer team’s list of demonic things. The rankings remained within the club many years later even after the trio had graduated, and like their achievements, they were unsurpassable.
The locker room fell silent when Liang Ke appeared at the door.
“There’s something that’s been kept from all of you and it will be made clear today.” Liang Ke had decided to be forthright, continuing only after he saw that everybody was listening. “Yang Pan may not be able to play in tomorrow’s game. If that happens, Zhang Jun will be captain.”
At those words, everyone glanced at Zhang Jun, who was sitting in a corner. He said nothing and his face was expressionless.
“Yang Pan’s grandmother passed away on Wednesday night; he’s returned to his hometown for the wake. That’s why it’s very likely he can’t make it tomorrow.”
The news was met with light gasps, and only that. Each member was in a stunned silence. This in turn caught Liang Ke off guard. He expected at least 10 different exclamations that amounted to “It can’t be!”.
The team now understood why Zhang Jun was being weird the day before; any noise they made would have been disrespectful to the dead. Still, their minds were not as placid as they appeared.
Zhang Jun remained quiet and vacant.
Liang Ke paused, knowing that they needed time to digest this piece of information before he continued.
“I won’t talk much about the other team. I believe all of you know them by now. We still have to strive for victory even in the absence of Yang Pan. We will use the win to convey our feelings. Tomorrow, we’ll be playing in a 5-3-2 formation. Yang Yong, you’re up as a center back.”
Yang Yong was a second-year student who often trained hard, but he was still a level below Lin Xiaofang and Li Jiegang. But to Liang Ke, he was a good substitute, and his diligence was now being rewarded.
On any other day, his teammates would have been joking around. They would say things like “Congratulations! Congratulations! Angpow please!” and other similar stuff.
That day, they were not in the mood.
Many only saw that Shu Guang’s respectable results were thanks to their 11 players on the pitch. In reality however, the reserves, who trained diligently everyday contributed too.
They did not complain or give in because they did not have fangirls screaming at their every move, or because of the ignominy of being named “Player 1”, “Player 2” by the papers. To be able to keep it going for so long showed how much they loved soccer and their team. They were Shu Guang’s unsung heroes.
Yang Yong did not express much surprise over the news although it had been everything he trained and dreamed for. It was not the time to be excited or happy, so he merely nodded somberly as he clenched his fists.
“Shu Guang will be playing in a 4-3-3 formation. It’s their usual style and the one that they’re best at. Their attack has been acknowledged as Luoyang’s finest. So, for tomorrow, Cao Po and Yao Wang need to pay extra attention. Shi Yan, you will also have to track back to be able to defend more.”
“Also, stay vigilant against Yang Pan and Zhang Jun. They are their key personnel and they won the National Middle School Soccer Championship categories for ‘best player’ and ‘best striker’ respectively. This is true especially for Yang Pan, who is very fast and proficient in long shots as well as crosses from the flanks. Cao Po, only you are capable of matching him in speed. He’s all yours, so try to stay mostly on the left flank.
Cao Po nodded. “Leave it to me.”
“Zhang Jun,” Liu Wei continued, “is a complete striker. He possesses outstanding technique and agile positioning. Yao Wang, be alert during the match—he’s exactly the type that’ll give you headaches.”
“Hehe! Relax, Coach. Bin Fei—’the Opportunist’—and I have been training one-on-one situations for three years. I now have enough experience and ability to suppress that Zhang Jun.”
Yao Wang smiled and he was knocked on the back of his head by Bin Fei.
“Die, stupid Yao! And, don’t call me ‘the Opportunist’!”
“Then, what should I call you?” Yao Wang asked, rubbing his head.
“Firewood Gatherer, stupid Yao! How many times have I told you and you still can’t remember!” Xiao Bo imitated Bin Fei, prompting laughter all around. Bin Fei wanted to teach him a lesson too, but there were a number of heads between them and he was not within his reach; he had to let it go.
Liu Wei smiled as he shook his head. The Dingding team was always like this.
In contrast, Fan Cunjie was not smiling. He was having some bizarre qualms about tomorrow’s game.
When talking about Zhang Jun’s hat-trick in the last game, High School Soccerwas specific on the first and third goal. The second—the one that even had a name like Rising Dragon—was merely labelled “unbelievable”. He was really nervous about it, especially given the mystery—something humans always feared and became apprehensive over. How was the goal unbeliveable? Cunjie did not understand.
“Anyway, we’ll play the way we always do against any other opponent. I believe if everyone plays to their usual standard, we can win this. Remember, our target is not Shu Guang; it’s Zhongyuan!”
Liu Wei was showing a rare emotional moment. He believed that he was not a bad coach himself, but he had been brought down by Zhongyuan’s Sun Laihong at every turn. There was a part of him that did not sit right with seeing his counterpart leading Zhongyuan into the Nationals, securing great results and becoming the “golden coach”.
This campaign was also the last song for Dingding’s Golden Generation; was it not his last chance to prove himself too? If they still could not escape failure at this point, he found that he would not be staying even if the school tried to keep him.
He had been in Dingding for 10 years—it was far too long for a coach. Maybe it was time for a change of scene.
And after the third-years leave next year, there would be a painful period of major upheaval. Dingding would pay for their over-reliance on Fan Cunjie’s batch of players as well as the lack of capable and experienced reserve players.
If there was no control over tomorrow, the best thing to do was give your best and seize the day.
The winds, which had been blowing for two days stopped on Friday night; the gales cleared the clouds to make way for a starry night. Anyone who looked above could see the sparkling stars and the moon clearly. The weather report predicted that the following day would be a clear and beautiful day.