Chapter 24: The Formidable Knuckleball
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
As soon as he received the ball, Yang Pan realized that Zhongyuan had not attacked them fromthe get-go. Instead, they were playing rather conservatively.
“Playing like this from the start... Looks like Zhongyuan holds the other team in high regard.” Zhou Peng analyzed. His years of following the team had made him quite the specialist on them.
“Of course! Shu Guang’s offense isn’t built from dust! It’s intimidating even without Zhang Jun,” Chen Huafeng, Shu Guang’s very own specialist replied.
Yang Pan carried the ball two paces however, no one came up to stop him. He was 35 m away from the goal, but Zhang Yang had express orders from his coach not to close in on Yang Pan as long as he did not get too close.
Meanwhile, Li Yongle still needed time to absorb the fact that Zhang Jun was not playing, causing his defending to become a little sloppy.
When Yang Pan first started playing, his first coach had already discovered his ability for shooting goals; To groom that talent, he always told Yang Pan, who was a toddler then, “Whenyou think you can shoot, don’t hesitate!”
“Can it be done? It’s so far!”
“What does your heart tell you?” the coach would ask him.
“It says that it can be done...”
In the present, Yang Pan aimed for the goal and he could see a clear line towards it.
“Then, shoot!” Yang Pan growled; he raised his foot and kicked.
Like a missile, the ball sped in the direction of the Zhongyuan goal, carrying with it a huge wave of pressure.
“It’s here!” Zhang Lintao muttered. But the ball hit the woodwork and went out. Although he had seen Yang Pan’s shooting back in middle school, this was the first time he experienced it firsthand behind the goal line; he could feel such immense force behind the ball that it almost left him rooted.
The Zhongyuan cheerleading team were also dumbstruck at the sight of the attempt.
Zhou Peng went numb too; he had only heard about Yang Pan’s shooting skills from Chen Huafeng, but had never witnessed it. As such, he decided to stick to his rule of “no comment until seen.”
However, when he did see it, he was speechless. It was his notion that highschoolers did not shoot like that―not even professionals were guaranteed to be able to do it. Yet, Yang Pan did so near the start of the game and even almost scored. It took him quite some time to utter, “Such a forceful shot... 35 m and the post is still shaking...”
Indeed, that attempt left several Zhongyuan players confounded―only one of them managed to maintain his typical cool. “Stop daydreaming!” Zhao Defeng clapped. “It’s time for our counter-attack!”
Sun Laihong nodded contentedly. When Zhao first entered the team, his game was already mature beyond his years; although he was offered the captain’s armband in his second year by Sun himself, the player had refused. “I’m just a second year student, it’s not ideal for me to be a captain. Luo Bin is a third-year now and a core player in our defense―he’s a better fit.”
But the coach’s pick was not to appease the pride of the players, who were about to graduate. He wanted Zhao as captain for the good of the team, for the squad to have a firm foundation and solid playstyle―he would not have changed the captaincy otherwise. After all, the armband was not just worn as a decoration; to wear it meant taking on heavy responsibilities.
Laihong believed in his own judgment that Zhao Defeng would become an excellent captain, and it was being proven right now.
Zhang Lintao cleared the ball forward. Su Li headed it but the bale fell to Li Yongle, who broke forward. When Liu Lei lunged at him, Li simply passed the ball to Zhang Yuchao on the left. Due to their formation, Shu Guang had less men guarding the flanks, thus becoming more vulnerable. As such, it was Yuchao’s time to shine; he made a dash into Shu Guang’s area.
Liu Hui closed in, but Yuchao used his “Shadowless Feet” to quickly slip the ball between his legs and accelerated past the dazed defender. Nutmeg!
But instead of crossing the ball after slipping past Liu Hui, the Zhongyuan player picked a diagonal route to dash into the box and shoot!
An Ke punched the ball away with both of his fists while Li Jieguang held Li Qiang off and cleared.
Possession went to Li Yongle once more, although this time, his attempted delivery to Zhao Defeng was intercepted by Su Li. In a single move, he sent out a long ball, which found Wang Bo, who headed it to Ren Yu De. The latter began his dribble from his right foot, but in front of him were both the ball and Zhongyuan’s 1v1 specialist, Liu Chao, waiting tightly for him.
Yu De leaned forward but his marker stayed motionless; even when he performed a Denilson-style stepover, his opponent still did not extend his leg to challenge for the ball, opting to remain between the Shu Guang forward and his goalpost. Knowing that he was facing a skilled opponent, Ren Yu De changed his approach and went for a hard breakthrough.
But as soon as Ren Yu De made his move and the ball inched away from his control, Liu Chao saw his chance and knocked the ball out of the touch-line.
Wang Bo delivered the ensuing throw-in to Ren, but even as Ren tried to shield the ball with his entire body, he felt the immense pressure the Zhongyuan wing back exerted from behind. “Damn! Such a small body, but so much power!” Noticing that he would soon be surrounded, he promptly made a backheel pass and turned. Catching Liu Chao by surprise with his change of direction in such limited space, Ren Yu De was free!
“Do you think we defenders are fools?” Luo Bin yelled as he jumped and headed the ball clear. But before he landed, he was met by a horrifying sight: Yang Pan appeared behind the ball, legs raised and ready to shoot!
Zhang Yang dashed into the fray with a sliding tackle!
But the challenge was ignored by Yang, who volleyed from outside the box!
Arriving late, only the tip of Zhang Yang’s boot came in contact with the ball. Almost at the same time as Yang let the ball fly, Zhang Lintao made the correct decision and dived towards the ball.
“He can’t stop Yang Pan’s shot from that spot!” Zhang Jun shook his head.
But with a loud bang on the posts, the ball fell to the right side of the box! Liu Chao quickly cleared it far away. Zhang Jun almost leaped from his seat. Yang Pan almost never missed fromthe half-circle spot during practice. How was Lintao able to keep it out?
Regardless, the Zhongyuan keeper stood up, gritting his teeth. He wanted everyone to know that Yang Pan’s shots were pointless against him―although in truth, the pain in both his hands was excruciating. While his fists were able to stop the ball, they were devoid of the fleshy cushion that open palms had. This in turn caused more damage. “Tarnation―I boasted that I could keep nine of these out at the start. But now, I’d be lucky if I could do five! What formidable knuckleballs!”
Yang Pan was taken aback too; He thought that it would go in for sure only to see it being saved by Zhang Lintao. But Zhang Jun’s best friend was not shaken. He merely shook his head a little.
In the blink of an eye, Zhongyuan switched to the offensive and arrived in front of Shu Guang’sbox. With his back to Su Li, Zhao Defeng passed the ball to Li Yongle, who refrained from an effort and slipped it to Zhang Yulin instead. He crossed it to Li Qiang, who leaped agilely with his 185-cm frame, dominating his aerial duel against Li Xiaopeng. But just as he was ready to head the ball in, An Ke rushed out from his line and gathered the ball.
While the two teams fought fearsomely, Shu Guang continued to have a slight advantage; and with Yang Pan’s speed and shots, Zhongyuan’s defense was afraid of pressing too high. Yang’s crazy efforts also proved to be a recompense for Liang Ke’s previous orders to suppress his long shots in the last few games.
Punching away Yang Pan’s fourth knuckleball, Zhang Lintao’s hands were beginning to tremble. And it was just the twenty-third minute of the first-half!
Noting his shifting expression, Yang Pan smirked at the keeper,and Lintao, feeling his entire back soaking wet, understood what it meant. “Keep stopping me if you can!”
Zhang Lintao was not the only one who felt Yang Pan’s power, even Zhang Yang felt it. The punk! Never coming close! Only firing long shots! But even as he thought that, Zhang Yang knew that if Yang Pan made a dash towards him, he would not be able to keep up with Yang Pan’s speed.
“It’s as if he immobilized the entire Zhongyuang defense by himself. Yang Pan... is he really a high school student?” Zhou Peng moaned.
“I’ve thought about it,” Chen Huafeng replied. “Whether it be speed, strength, physicality, technique or awareness, he’s almost perfect. I think there wouldn’t be issues for him even if he went pro right now. He just might need to get used to some of the norms within the professional scene.”
When Yang Pan picked up the ball once more, Zhang Yang made a beeline for him even when his opponent was 30 m out.
“I’m not giving you any chance to shoot!” he cried.
“You can try.” Yang Pan smiled and shifted his weight―it looked like he was accelerating.
Must be a dummy, Zhang Yang thought; but Yang Pan really moved! With one hit of the ball, he began to accelerate! By the time Zhang Yang turned, Yang was already three meters ahead of him and still speeding up!
Is he really clocked at 11 seconds per 100 m? Lies! Zhang Yang thought after being left staring at his mark from the back.
And 30 m was all Yang Pan needed to show off his capabilities. With a slip of the tips of his boots, he left Deng Rui for dead. Deng Rui was not even able to grasp Yang Pan’s sleeves with his outstretched hand.
In a leap, Zhang Rui finally got to head the ball ahead of Luo Bin! But Zhang Lintao could easilyhandle the level of his attempt and collected the ball tidily.
The keeper flung the ball out for an offensive move. Li Yongle kicked it to Zhang Yulin, who held it for two paces before sending it to Zhao Defeng. Not giving time for Shu Guang’s defensive midfield duo to get near him, he made a through pass that slipped through their entire defense! Knowing that it was his chance, He Jialin broke through the crowd for the ball but he was just a little too slow and An Ke’s timely dash resolved the crisis.
“A heart-stopping game.” Zhou Peng breathed. “Offenses and defenses shifting every moment! There’s no time at all to observe any outfield happenings!”
Chen Hua Feng agreed with him. “That’s right!”
The two sides were still leveled at 0: 0, although from a technical point of view, Zhongyuan was at a disadvantage.
Attempts: Shu Guang 6, Zhongyuan 1;
Attempts on target: Shu Guang 6, Zhongyuan 1;
Fouls: Shu Guang 3, Zhongyuan 5;
Offsides, Corners: Both 0.
But for the occasions of venturing 30 m out from the opponent’s goal, Shu Guang had done soon eight occasions, while Zhongyuan only managed three. Anyone who only looked at the numbers would probably think that Zhongyuan were being bullied.
Still, even with the disadvantage they were facing in the pitch, Sun Laihong did not seem inclined to give any instructions and he merely leaned against a pillar under the shade of the technical area.
The game went into the thirty-second minute when Yang Pan shifted from his habit of shooting outside the box to dashing in to Zhongyuan’s area! Luo Bin quickly dropped his mark on Zhang Rui and surrounded the intruder with Deng Rui and Zhang Yang.
“Buffoon! Zhang Yang! Sliding tackle!” Luo Bin screamed, although Zhang Yang was already doing that.
Yang Pan lifted his leg and took a shot!
Zhang Lintao dove... but the ball was already at the back of the net. Yang Pan got up and ran to the corner flag, punching the air and roaring, “Goal!”
1 : 0! Shu Guang led against Zhongyuan in the thirty-second minute!
How many teams were there in Luoyang who could boast of leading against the Zhongyuan team in a match? Still, Shu Guang had done it!
There were delirious celebrations behind Zhou Peng and on the pitch.
“Zhang Lintao’s record of not conceding for 279 minutes... is now history.” He smiled bitterly.
“It’s not his fault. Such a shot at such a distance―his reaction itself is already remarkable,” Chen Huafeng added.
“I know, such fearsome shots...”
Zhang Jun saw the goal but he did not hop and jump around to celebrate like his teammates. He clenched his fist and smiled for the first time since the game started.
Su Fei on the other hand, was much more excited. She gave everyone high-fives before she noticed that Zhang Jun’s reaction was not as enthusiastic as the others.
“You look unhappy,” Su Fei stated, sitting down.
“Nonsense! Can’t you see that I’m smiling?”
“Then, why are you sitting alone and not moving?”
“I knew what would happen as soon as Yang Pan raised his feet, so of course I’m not going to react like the others.”
“Hmph! So you’re still upset over not playing.”
Zhang Jun went quiet. He had no way of responding and simply moved his gaze towards the scoreboard next to the field.
1 : 0, Shu Guang was in the lead.
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