Chapter 973: Two Minutes
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Twain made two substitutions in one go. Vaughan was the player who replaced Agbonlahor, and Downing was substituted by Cohen.
Twain was only able to make his substitutions this quickly because Italy had been awarded a free kick in England’s half of the pitch. If not, the two players would have stood by the side of the pitch for quite some time.
The England fans immediately started booing Balotelli after they cheered for Agbonlahor as the latter walked off the pitch. The fans appear to have reached a tacit agreement to disrupt Balotelli by booing him every time he takes the free kick or the corner kick.
Balotelli re-positioned the ball after both of England’s players had gotten into position on the pitch. Once he was done, he retreated backwards by a few steps, and was ready to charge at the ball and kick it. The boos from the England fans had no impact on him. He simply ignored them. He has to thank Nottingham Forest for allowing him to gain the ability to drown out the sounds of the fans’ booing… Nottingham Forest is a team that would be constantly booed by opposing fans no matter where they go, and as the first choice striker for the team, Balotelli has been booed countless times over the past two seasons as well. His time in Nottingham Forest has allowed him to grow immune to the fans’ booing, and their boos do not disrupt his play in any way now.
Balotelli was well aware that he has not performed well in the match so far, but he also knew why Lippi had chosen to put him on the pitch. In the second half, England had solidified its defense, and they mostly remained in their own half of the pitch to guard against Italy’s attacks. As a result, Italy was able to earn more and more free kicks in England’s half of the pitch. Lippi has brought him on because he wants to capitalize on those free kicks. He hopes that a technical player like him would create the spark needed for the team to score a goal and thereby break the deadlock in the match.
England is definitely doing a fantastic job at defending. Italy is hardly given any chance to score at all, and their only way of scoring a goal now is to take their free kicks well.
“This is the fourth time that Balotelli is taking a free kick. Two of his previous shots went over the bar, and one was blocked by the players…” The commentator did not hesitate in pointing out the fact that Balotelli had not performed well when taking free kicks for his team either.
“I think the very last match of Lippi’s managerial career would be ruined by the black player.”
“It might be a little too early for me to say this, but I’d still say it anyway. Lippi is 68 years old this year, and I think his old age has affected his ability to make decisions. I cannot understand why he would play Balotelli in the match. It is utterly puzzling.”
Twain walked back to his seat at the dugout after completing his substitutions. The cacophonous environment in the stadium had forced him to raise his voice to talk to his two players earlier. His voice was already hoarse to begin with, but it had become even more hoarse now. He desperately wanted to drink some water to make his throat feel better.
Right when Twain had his back towards the goalpost, the referee blew on his whistle once to signal that Balotelli could go ahead and take the free kick.
Balotelli inhaled deeply, then exhaled. Thereafter, he began his run-up to the ball.
His first two steps were done at the same spot, and he only took a big stride forward on his third step. That one big stride was all Balotelli needed to reach the ball. Once he was positioned next to the ball, he raised his leg and smashed his foot against it. The ball flew into the air and went past the wall of England players who stood before Balotelli. It then flew straight towards the top left-hand corner of the goalpost!
It was the corner that was furthest away from where Joe Hart stood on the pitch.
Joe Hart immediately pounced towards the ball when he saw it make its way past the wall of players and straight towards his goalpost. However, it was too late by then.
The ball had already made its way into the goalpost when he pounced towards it…
“This… GOOOAL! GOOOOOAL!” The commentator who did not work for either Italy or England only started cheering after a brief moment of shock.
Twain was startled by the sudden cheers that had erupted in the stadium. His hands trembled slightly, and the tremor caused the water from his water bottle to spill onto his tuxedo. “Goddamn it!” Twain cursed. He wanted to ask Walker for a towel, but when he looked up, he noticed that Walker was as angry as he was.
Twain did not fathom why Walker was furious. Before he could ask his assistant manager about what had happened, he noticed movement at the Italy dugout from the corner of his eye, and he directed his gaze towards it. He saw Lippi seated at his seat emotionlessly while everyone else around him embraced one another…
A bad thought raced through Twain’s mind. He immediately turned around and looked at the pitch, and he saw a group of players dressed in blue hugging one another in the middle of the pitch. His players, on the other hand, all had their heads lowered and they appeared crestfallen.
Twain did not need to look at the screen. He could tell what had happened…
He had spent less than half a minute to drink a gulp of water, but in that short span of time, Italy had scored their equalizer! Balotelli’s free kick must have gone in!
“F*ck!” Twain put even more emotion behind his curse this time round.
“We all thought he was also poor at taking free kicks, but…” Walker shook his head in anguish. There were only 20 minutes left in the match. Victory was right there before them, but now they have been pulled back to the starting line by their opponents with an equalizer…
The commentators who have been mocking Balotelli all this while were suddenly heaping praises on him.
“That was a wonderful goal! Mario Balotelli! He has leveled the score for Italy!”
“Super Mario! Super Mario! An absolutely brilliant goal!”
“He is the only player who can be counted on when his team is in a dire state!”
Not only that, they were also full of praise for Lippi’s decision to play Balotelli as well. “This goal proves that Lippi was right to substitute Lanzafame for Balotelli earlier! Balotelli has effectively shut all his critics up by scoring a goal!”
“We have leveled the score! There is hope of us becoming the champions once again! Twain always says that ‘having a one goal lead in a match is the most dangerous situation that a football team can find themselves in’, and I am very happy that Balotelli has used a goal to prove that his words are true! Both sides are now back at the starting line and there are 20 minutes left to play…” The Italian commentator was the happiest out of all the other commentators. He was dancing before his microphone excitedly.
The England players were frustrated after letting Italy score a goal. They have blocked every possible attacking route that the Italy players could take, but there was absolutely nothing that they could do about free kicks.
“Reduce the number of fouls that you make on them!” The depressed England players heard Twain yelling by the side of the pitch. “Try not to foul them at areas whereby they would have a good chance of scoring from free kicks!”
Twain understood very well that fouls are an integral part of defense. Generally speaking, one can know whether a defender is good or not by looking at the number of fouls that he makes. A defender who knows how and when to foul another player is a good defender.
However, the opposition just scored from a free kick that had been given to them as a result of a foul. The players would definitely be worried about giving away too many free kicks now, and this could lead to increased pressure on them during defense.
Hence, Twain is left with no other choice but to get his players to reduce the number of fouls that they make. The only weakness to his tactic is that his team would end up awarding a lot of free kicks to the opposition…
Twain wanted to pull Wood over to him and give him further instructions about what to do next, but the Italy players were in a hurry to get the game going once again. The ball had been placed at the center circle shortly after Italy’s celebration of the goal. The players from both sides quickly got into their positions on the pitch and waited for kick-off.
What upset Twain the most was the fact that he had only just finished making his adjustments to the team moments before Italy leveled the score. He would not be able to make any further changes to his team now, and all he could do was to put his faith in the players and hope that they are able to find a way to turn the match back in their favor. To make matters worse, his tactics for the match have been rendered ineffective by the opposition, and he needs to come up with a new set of tactics soon. He had asked his players to primarily focus on defense for the match, and even players like Chris Cohen who typically go on the attack have been asked to prioritize defense over offense. The team would only counter-attack when an opportunity to do arises.
However, things are different now.
Twain yelled at the pitch. His voice has to be as loud as the cheers from half of the spectators in the stadium, or else it would get drowned out.
“Cohen! Cohen!” He yelled by the side of the pitch. Chris Cohen was situated far away from where Twain stood, and it was quite difficult to catch his attention.
Fortunately for Twain, he had a transmitter on the pitch. Wood heard Twain’s yells in the middle of the pitch, and he immediately called out to Cohen. Cohen then directed his gaze towards where Twain was.
“Go on the offense more!” Twain gestured to Cohen and he wanted him to stop focusing on defense.
Cohen nodded his head to signal that he understood.
After seeing that Cohen had understood his words, Twain began calling out to the other players. “Rooney! Rooney! I want you to retreat backwards! Help out in the midfield!”
“Walcott, I want you to run forward whenever you get the ball! Go on the counter-attack!”
“George, be quicker with your passes!”
Italy would definitely press forward and attack now that they have equalized the score. They want that second goal that could potentially allow them to win the match. There is only one way for England to deal with the situation, and that is to play counter-attacking football. All they need is a chance, and they would be able to turn this match around. The situation is not dire just yet.
The match resumed soon after, and just as Twain had predicted, Italy pressed forward and attacked England ferociously. They wanted to make use of the momentum of the match that had shifted in their favor to take the lead in the match. England was forced to retreat against Italy’s attacks, and things looked bad for them for a while. Italy looked like they were going to score a goal at any time.
Both of Italy’s fullbacks ran to the front to join in the attack, and this provided Italy with more attacking options. They attacked England down the flank and down the middle. England had no way of going on the counter-attack because they had their hands full from trying to defend against Italy’s relentless attacks.
England’s defense was not as tight as it used to be prior to Italy’s goal. The England players were constantly worried about giving free kicks away, and this resulted in a lot more space for the Italy players to exploit.
Sebastian Giovinco tried to make his way past England’s defense by making use of his flexibility and ball control. He noticed that George Wood had run up from the back to defend against him, but he did not choose to force his way past the England defenders. Instead, he cleverly passed the ball over to the middle of the pitch.
Daniele De Rossi was the player who received his pass, and he immediately raised his leg and did a long shot at goal!
Joe Hart pounced sideways towards the ball, and he fought hard to send De Rossi’s powerful shot out of bounds.
The fans of both teams were no longer able to contain their wildly beating hearts after watching all that had happened on the pitch.
Italy was awarded a corner kick just one minute after scoring their previous goal.
The England fans could not help but be on tenterhooks every time Italy takes either a free kick or a corner kick. They had mocked Balotelli earlier, but it was clear that he had regained his form and was capable of taking both free kicks and corner kicks well now.
The sight of both Salvatore Foti and Giorgio Chiellini before England’s goalpost left the England players in a state of anxiety. Both Foti and Chiellini are players who are good at headers, and now that Balotelli has regained his form, things might get really bad for England…
Everyone was under the impression that Balotelli would cross the ball into the middle of the penalty box. However, they were all wrong. Balotelli chose to pass the ball to De Rossi, who had run up to him to receive the ball.
A short corner!
Joe Hart saw De Rossi receive the ball, and he immediately bellowed, “Retreat backwards! Make them be ruled offside!”
The England players obediently retreated backwards in unison, and they were just like a tide. Everyone was worried that they would move too slowly and end up putting the Italy players onside. De Rossi passed the ball back to Balotelli who had run away from the corner flag. An England player raised his hand to suggest that Balotelli was offside, but both the assistant referee and the referee were unimpressed.
Balotelli raised his head to look at the penalty box after receiving the ball. The England players were still retreating backwards in an attempt to make him be deemed offside.
However, all hope was not lost yet. It was still possible for them to try and score a goal.
Balotelli keenly realized that his team’s midfielder, Alberto Aquilani, had run up from the back as the England defenders retreated backwards…
Balotelli did not hesitate the moment he saw that, and he instantly crossed the ball into the penalty box. It was a perfectly placed pass, and the ball was sent into a space that Aquilani would run towards. Aquilani received the ball right as he was positioned between both Terry and Joe Mattock. He was not offside!
The entire England defense was in a state of chaos after Aquilani received the ball. It was clear that there was little use in trying to get Aquilani offside now… All the England players immediately charged towards the Italy player.
Joe Hart ran towards the ball the moment he saw Aquilani receive the pass from Balotelli. The angle in which Aquilani could make a shot was very narrow. All Joe Hart had to do was to try and block off the angle, and he should be able to stop Italy’s attack.
The goalkeeper naturally assumed that the opposing player would choose to shoot at the goalpost the moment he received the ball. However, shooting was not on Aquilani’s mind at all. He knew what he had to do the moment he saw Joe Hart rushing towards him.
He did not bother checking who was right before the goalpost. He simply passed the ball sideways towards the goal area.
None of the England players dared to stretch a leg out to deal with Aquilani’s pass. They were all afraid of scoring an own goal…
But, there was one player who was not afraid!
Foti slid towards the ball. His foot reached the ball!
“Balotelli passed the ball over to De Rossi, and De Rossi passed the ball back to him. Balotelli then passes the ball into the penalty box… Aquilani! Aquilani has received the ball! There is no one marking him! Joe Hart has rushed towards him! A sideways pass! Well done! Aquilani’s pass… Salvatore Foti…” The Italian commentator was just like a machine gun. He spoke extremely fast and there were no pauses in between. And, at the end, he went, “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!!”
Twain held his slightly wet tuxedo in his hands. He had taken it off after spilling water over it moments ago. After seeing that Italy had scored another goal within two minutes, he instantly threw his tuxedo onto the ground in a fit of rage.
“F*CK! F*CK! F*CK!” Twain was so furious that he cursed three times in a row.
Even the typically emotionless Lippi could not sit still this time round. He jumped from his seat and ran to the side of the pitch to hug his assistant manager Ferrara after seeing his team come back from behind to take the lead in the match.
Everyone at the Italy dugout were celebrating.
“2:1! 2:1! We are the ones in front! We are the ones in front!” The Italian commentator yelled at the top of his lungs. He was very emotional and there seemed to be a low sobbing tone in his voice.
He might have provided commentaries for countless matches in the past, but this finals match has been an emotional roller coaster ride for him. Italy was still trailing in the match a few minutes ago, but now, they have managed to turn the match around. He could not contain his excitement at that fact.
“Absolutely unbelievable… Italy has come back from behind and they are now in the lead! Both of their goals have come so fast that the England players were not even able to react!”
“What did we just see? The Italians have staged a comeback in just two minutes! They have come back from behind in this finals match!”
“Balotelli was definitely offside when he received the ball from De Rossi!” Motson believed that the goal should be disallowed because Balotelli was in an offside position prior to the goal being scored.
There were numerous England players who felt the same way as Motson. They crowded around the referee to protest that Balotelli was offside when he received the ball from De Rossi.
The referee shook his head in response to their protests. He did not change his judgement.
A slow motion replay of the moment where Balotelli received the ball from De Rossi was displayed on the screen at the stadium, and it was shown that Balotelli was not in an offside position when he received the ball. He would have been if De Rossi had passed the ball to him a fraction of a second later.
Italy’s goal was a clean goal. There were no problems whatsoever.
There were still several England players who refused to give up in their fight, and they continued to protest to the referee. The rest of the England players, on the other hand, stood rooted on the pitch and looked to be at a complete loss…