Chapter 68: The Match Begins
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
After spouting gibberish for half a day, the voices behind the loudspeakers finally returned to the topic at hand.
“Led by three match officials, the two teams are entering the pitch!” Wang Qiang began the introductions amidst majestic music.
“Dark blue jerseys, black shorts and black stockings—it’s the team everyone’s familiar with; the ‘Uncrowned Kings’ Dingding High School! Leading the way is their captain who dons the No.10 shirt, Fan Cunjie! The ‘Master of Tricks’ is now a third-year, and this will be the last year we can expect to enjoy his elegant moves on the pitch.”
“Behind him is their goalkeeper, No.1, Xia Bo. Another third-year student, who’s always full of ‘surprises’. Who knows if we’ll get to see one today?”
“No.3, Yao Wang. The 190-cm gigantic has been the center back and Dingding’s shield for three whole years. Today we will see if he can lead his team to resist the Shu Guang onslaught.”
“No.5, Su Rui is another Dingding center back. A 185-cm second-year who is experienced.”
“No.6, Ya Dong, left back, second-year.”
“No.4, Tang Liang, right back, second-year.”
“No.8, Cao Po is the defensive midfielder. Outstanding in defense, strong overall and explosive. He’s the perfect partner for Yao Wang; few can score past them.”
“No.7, Lu Hui is the left midfielder. He has the fastest record for 100-m dashes in Dingding and he’s said to rival Shu Guang’s Yang Pan in speed. We just might see who’s faster in this game.”
“No.11, Shi Yan: the right midfielder. Favors either foot, he is physically fit, skillful and also Dingding’s ‘marathoner’. He’s Dingding’s key in attacking from the flanks.”
“No.18, Shi Lei is the striker; a selfless one too, often making fantastic passes. He’s a second-year.”
“No.9, Bin Fei: the striker. A great shooter with depth positioning, he drifts around the box and delivers a lethal strike at any given moment—a genuine pain for defenders. He’s another third-year.”
Every name announced by Wang Qiang was met by a chorus of hurrahs, an indication of just how popular Dingding was. In contrast, Shu Guang was a lot less glamorous; the most the players had were shrill cries from some of their fangirls. Their introduction was mostly greeted by silence.
“Wearing completely white uniforms with twin red stripes, it’s the rising force for the last two years, Shu Guang! Leading their team is the captain, Yang—”
It was then that Wang Qiang noticed the player with the captain’s armband was wearing the No.11 shirt, and he quickly corrected himself. “It’s… Zhang Jun; No.11, Zhang Jun, that’s right!”
There was a little commotion at the stands. Everyone knew that Shu Guang’s captain was the player who clocked in at 10.52 seconds for 100-m dashes and shot the ball at speeds up to 180 km/h—Yang Pan.
“Uh, Zhang Jun, No.11 is Shu Guang’s striker. Holistic, explosive, and an assassin in the box. He scored two consecutive hat-tricks in his last two games, ranking just second behind Yingcai’s Ma Ni by two goals on the rankings of top scorers. There’s every hope that he’ll eventually top the board since Yingcai is already out. And, there’s that ‘Rising Dragon’—the fantastic goal he hit in last game. Who knows if he can repeat the same feat today?”
“Behind him is Shu Guang’s goalkeeper, No.1, An Ke. He’s 188 cm tall, but moves quick; a splendid stopper of low balls. He is one of the four great goalies of Luoyang, alongside Zhongyuan’s Zhang Lintao, Dingding’s Xia Bo and Yingcai’s Sima Hongxin.”
“No.4, Li Jieguang is a seasoned third-year center back.”
“No.5, Lin Xiaofang managed to secure a place as center back as soon as he joined the team. He has proven himself in previous games.”
“No.6, Xie Yu is a third-year left back; a physical player.”
“No.3, Chen Bo. Like Lin Xiaofang, he is another first-year who has won the right back post. Chen Bo is strong and tenacious.”
“No.8, Wang Ning is a defensive midfielder; another outstanding first-year player.”
“No.17, Li Hao, a third-year. He as well as Wang Ning do the dirtiest and tiring work quietly, but they’re indispensable to the team.”
“No.10, Kaka is a student from Brazil. His full name is Calder Isaacson Santos Li Ni. A true heir of Brazilian Samba Soccer, he’s very skilled and he has been an etremely creative playmaker in the midfield.”
“No.9, Ren Yu De is a striker. He has outstanding skills, and a dribble universally acknowledged to be second only to Fan Cunjie himself. He often entertains on the field.”
“And next up is…” Wang Qiang thought that it was finally Yang Pan’s turn, but he was dumbstruck. He took a brief moment to recover to his usual calm. “It’s No.5, a new face—he’s never shown up in Shu Guang’s games before, center back, Yang Yong!”
There were quite a number of surprised exclamations coming from the stands; many were clearly shocked that a legendary character such as Yang Pan would not be starting.
There were some jeers in the mix too—many clearly thought that Shu Guang was arrogant and thought that Dingding was beneath it.
Liu Wei breathed a brief sigh of relief—Yang Pan’s absence had greatly decreased the threat against his team; it was a good thing. It was wise to capture this advantage in the first-half and pour forward to grab the lead. That way, they would have control over the game’s rhythm, preventing any ruse from Shu Guang.
Was it also a providence, hinting that Dingding could realize the dream they have had for years now?
Zhang Jun glanced down at his red captain armband; he had been peeking at it regularly since leaving the locker room. Although he had yet to decide what it felt like to be captain for the first time, the red band danced like red flames across his eyes every time he moved. It reminded him of the responsibility he had.
The referee gestured for both team captains to pick their halves. Zhang Jun smiled as he shook hands with Fan Cunjie, but his counterpart merely frowned and nodded.
Quickly putting on a straight face, Zhang Jun thought that he should be more serious in times like this. Or else, he would be losing his dignity as captain.
“Heads or tails?”
A coin was hurled into the air, rolling as it fell.
It was then decided that Dingding would initiate the kick-off while Shu Guang picked their court.
In high school competitions, most teams loved to huddle in a circle and holler. It was not known if it raised their fighting spirit or if it was just for show. Nevertheless, the two teams playing that day followed the ritual
Shu Guang’s cluster surprised even their own supporters—their team had never done this before. Liang Ke was amazed as well—he never gave such instructions; it was all based on their own inititiave.
“Dingding! To victory and the Nationals!” A roar soon rang out from Dingding’s circle, while there was nary a sound from Shu Guang.
“To be frank, we’re not used to this,” Zhang Jun told his teammates as he leaned forward. “But, there are a few things I’d like to say. Everybody’s here for the very first time, but I don’t think it matters because there’s still greater places that await us!
“Yang Pan’s grandmother has passed on and he’s at her wake now. What we can do is wait for him with the finals in our hands, not with frowny faces of failure.
“That’s all I have to say. Everyone, to your positions and let’s win his!”
At those words, he straightened himself and went to stand by the center circle. His dumbfounded teammates quickly dispersed moments later to assume their positions.
“Really! Is there a need to say such things?” An Ke mumbled to himself as he walked towards the post. “Rubbish! Won’t we become the butt of that retard’s joke if we’re defeated without him? We will never lose!”
Kaka heard that and smiled despite himself. An Ke was right—Shu Guang could not lose under any circumstances. There was still soccer to play and fun to be had. They needed to take this match for that.
“Win! We must win!” The Brazilian gripped his fists tightly.
The whistle for kick-off rang and the match started. But, the crowd had yet to wrap their head around the quiet Shu Guang huddle, which dispersed just as quietly.
“Bin Fei gives it to Shi Lei, who makes a back-pass to Fan Cunjie! At long last, the first semi-final match of the Luoyang Regional Qualifiers for the 15th National High School Soccer Championship commences!”
The unusually hushed stands instantly roared in applause and lifted the atmosphere; the match had begun.
The photojournalists who stood pitch-side flashed their lenses together on cue. The match had begun.
Fan Cunjie dribbled towards Shu Guang’s court; behind him were his teammates, who followed him forward ar full throttle. The match had begun.