Chapter 972: Counter Every Move
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Everyone wondered about the substitution Lippi made, and unceremoniously questioned the substitution.
But the main person who was being questioned sat calmly in the technical area, as if he was not the one who had brought Balotelli on.
Or he did not see Balotelli’s mistake at all…
In fact, he certainly saw it, and he was clear about it in his mind. It was just that he could not express his displeasure with the player who had just been brought on. He sat on the sidelines with a calm face, but he was sending a message to the players that –
Don’t worry, we still have the time and opportunity. Don’t be thrown into confusion.
The players all calmed down one by one on the pitch when they saw such a calm manager.
Why are we in a panic about when the manager is not panicking?
Even Balotelli, who had just made a mistake, thought so, too.
In fact, Balotelli knew what this UEFA European Championship meant to him. Before the UEFA European Championship, his agent had told him that if he wanted to leave Nottingham Forest smoothly, he had to produce a convincing performance at the UEFA European Championship. That way he could lobby around for him.
Two seasons at Nottingham Forest had gradually left him without a name in European football. At this point, he had to work hard again like a rookie.
With this idea, Balotelli played actively. Despite the mistake he made, he did not take it to heart. He just wanted to focus on scoring goals or assisting his teammates.
Balotelli played as a striker for the Forest team, but he went up and played as a right midfielder in this game. His main task was to help the team attack on this sideline, cross from the byline and allow Foti to compete for headers in the middle. But that was not enough to play his best.
Italy’s Giovinco broke through and cut inside on the left side. He flashed past the unsuspecting Walcott and intended to break though further when George Wood made him fall down.
The referee whistled to give Italy a free kick on the left side of the penalty area and gave Wood a verbal warning at the same time. Wood was smart enough not to step forward to defend himself. He did not rush at Giovinco, but Giovinco was a thin and weak guy. He just fell down with one hit. He was the same in the first half, so he could not be bothered to explain to the referee.
Seeing the Italian team scored a free kick, Balotelli rushed over from the other side and held the ball in his hands. His teammates were aware of Lippi’s latest arrangement and Balotelli had officially taken over the right to carry out all of the place kicks in the front field.
The England players were no strangers to Balotelli’s free kicks. In the Forest team, he and Bale were usually the ones to carry out penalty kicks. Balotelli had regularly used free kicks to break through the goals of those Premier League teams.
The England fans in the stands booed him when they saw him place the football on the ground and appeared to be the one to carry out the free kick.
Balotelli’s kick went over the crossbar amid the widespread roars.
The England fans shouted out cheers of victory, while Balotelli looked a little annoyed at the turf under his feet. There seemed to be a bit of unevenness here, which caused his kick to be flawed.
Based on the free kick, it looked like Balotelli still could not find his form, which in turn gave the commentator another chance to attack Lippi.
Fortunately, the television commentary could not be heard in the technical area. Otherwise it was really known how many managers would throw the games aside and rush to the commentators’ box at the back to find those who only knew how to move their lips to vent at them.
Balotelli had underperformed twice in a row and Lippi still remained unmoved. He had already made up his mind. Since he had brought him on, what else did he have to regret about? As long as it was not a major mistake, he could not bring him off, could he? The valuable substitution spots could not be wasted in this way.
Balotelli played poorly but the England team did not dare take it lightly. Because they had exploited Italy’s underestimation of the underperforming Agbonlahor in the first half and cracked open the goal which had impenetrable defense. During the halftime interval, Twain also warned them not to underestimate their opponent and must be cautious.
Therefore, when Balotelli took the ball on the sideline, there was no sign of Joe Mattock’s slackness at all. Although they were teammates of the same football club, they were currently playing for different teams.
Balotelli was going to force a breakthrough. Although he had overtaken Joe Mattock, Downing had rushed up from behind and blocked his way. With the slight delay, Joe Mattock came up again, and the two men joined forces to keep Balotelli out and force him near the corner flag.
Balotelli saw that there was no way to complete the pass. It seemed difficult to break through, so he retreated to seek another chance. Even a corner shot was good. As a result, after the ball that was kicked out hit Joe Mattock, the ball inexplicably bounced back instead of bouncing straight toward the end line and hit Balotelli’s shin bone before bouncing out of the end line…
This time he did not even get a corner kick. The assistant referee immediately pointed the flag to the goal area, which meant that it was a goal ball.
The England fans sat in the stands behind the England team’s goal in the second half. Seeing that Balotelli had failed in his bid for a corner kick and instead gave out a goal ball, the fans over that area burst into laughter.
“He’s completely marked to death by our men…” Des Walker sighed. The England coaching staff had already thoroughly studied this particular Forest player. Thanks to the Forest team’s poor performance over the past two seasons, Balotelli’s form had also become poor.
If he did not know or understand Twain, he would have wondered if it was a conspiracy… It was such a coincidence!
The England team’s coaching staff had analyzed everyone in the Italian team before the game and made specific arrangements targeting their different characteristics, regardless of how many of them were able to play in the game.
Balotelli was naturally among them. At the time, the team’s coaching staff analyzed two possibilities. First of all, Balotelli certainly would not be in the starting lineup, but he might come on as a substitute because he was a player with specific traits and his place kicks were excellent. And if the England team were to employ a solid defensive counterattack against Italy, a tight defense was something Lippi needed to consider. That was when Balotelli could simply do a good job.
In that case, he could play as a striker or right midfielder when he came on, because Balotelli could play well in both positions. So, they needed to make two different arrangements – what do we do when he is a striker? What do we do when he’s a side midfielder?
When he was a side midfielder, Twain asked both the full back and side midfielders to actively defend and minimize Balotelli’s chances for passes while cutting off his links with the others at the same time and trying to isolate him.
Judging from the defense just now, Joe Mattock and Downing did it well. They blocked Balotelli with their double team front and back which completely cut off the path for the ball to be sent out.
Twain had done a lot of work for this final, and now they all came to life one by one.
Balotelli played averagely in the game. After being caught several times by the England team, he began to do more passes and not dribble the ball himself to break through. He knew he had been targeted by Twain. When he played for the Forest team, he had heard much about the legend of that man, who was always being referred to as a god, as if he was not a football manager but a wizard in a medieval legend, full of power to stir up people’s sentiments. Every member of staff at the Wilford training base always had a look of worship when they talked about Twain, and had little feeling toward the club chairman, Mr. Evan Dougherty.
Although he was frozen in the game, Balotelli was not too worried. Because he still had a weapon that the English players could never freeze. It was just that he was trying his best to warm up his legs now…
Facing Joe Mattock’s blocking, Balotelli forced to pass the football. Although the ball bypassed his teammate in the Forest team, it was also too high …even if Foti was 2.03 meters tall, he could not reach such a “pass.”
“It looks like his form is really bad…” This time even the Italian commentator could not help shaking his head as he spoke.
Balotelli then tried a long shot from outside the penalty area. This time the shot was rather accurate, only that it was too straight on and was grabbed by Joe Hart.
“Ah ha! It is his best performance since he came on!” Motson quipped.
Balotelli was actually not the main character. Lippi did not instruct anyone else to pass the ball to him in Italy’s offense. From the gap opened up from where he was, De Rossi was still in charge of dispatching. He was the core of the Italian team, and Giovinco was also active in front of the penalty area, causing a headache and tension for the England defenders.
As time went on in the second half, the Italian team’s offensive grew stronger and stronger, adopting a stance of turning out in full strength.
Lippi also noticed the time. Time was the most precious at present. There were now 20 minutes to go before the end of the 90-minute game. These 20 minutes might not seem short, but they could actually flash by in a blink of an eye. If they did not hurry up, the Italian players would only become more impatient as time went on, and the scales of victory would tip in favor of the England team.
Something must be done.
Lippi thought about it and instructed a few things to Ferrara, the assistant manager sitting next to him.
Ferrara listened and bobbed his head in between words. Then he got up from his seat and walked to the sideline, gesticulating across the other side. Following which, Italy’s two full backs could be seen starting to plug in from the back and assist with the offense.
The Italian full backs joined in the attack and England immediately felt a lot of defensive pressure, especially on Joe Mattock’s side.
While Lippi let the full backs go up and assist with the offensive, Giovinco and Balotelli also changed positions. Balotelli did not achieve much on the right side. Since that was the case, it was better for him to switch to the left and face the defensively stronger Richards. He was not seeking a breakthrough to pass. He just needed to hold the other side down. Italy’s main offensive direction was changed to their right side, which was England’s left.
Paloschi also ran to the right side to get in on the action. With three players targeting this area, Joe Mattock and Downing could not hold any longer.
Downing was not the kind of player who was good at defense. It was not good to have him focus solely on defense.
Twain looked on with a frown, and then he turned around to say to his assistant manager, Des Walker, “Go call back Cohen and Vaughn in warmup.”
Walker knew what he wanted to do. He nodded and ran away without saying anything.
When Vaughn heard that Twain wanted him to go back, he was a little surprised. It was normal to come out and warm up. The coaches would regularly pick a group of players to go warm up, and he was naturally among them. But in the next second he thought of what Twain said to him at the end of the halftime interval.
He looked down at the T-shirt inside the collar of his jersey.
It was already soaked in sweat. He hoped that the writing on it did not become fuzzy.
Vaughn and Cohen both appeared in front of Twain at the same time. Twain looked at them both, did not say much, and began to lay out specific tactics.
For Chris Cohen, the focal point of Twain’s instruction was on the defense. He wanted him to go up to help Mattock and ease the pressure on his defense. It would not work if he were to always get Wood to fill in on the sideline, because there were Aquilani and De Rossi in the middle.
As for Vaughn…
Twain glanced up at him before assigning him the task.
“James, are you still brooding over the fact that I did not put you in the starting lineup?” He asked.
Vaughn was not a fool. If he honestly answered, “Yes, I still can’t figure out why it is so till now.” Then he would be done for. He just shook his head and replied, “I defer to you, boss.”
He said these words a little reluctantly. How could Twain not discern it? But he did not mind. He had wanted this result. “Let’s not talk about why I did it first. I just want to know this. Do you have enough passion and desire to go on the game? I’m going to bring you on to play now. Are you going to surprise me, or are you going to muddle through the game until the end?”
“No one wants to mess up, boss.” James Vaughn said this sentence most willingly, “This is the final of the UEFA European Championship.”
Vaughn felt that Twain asking such a question was an insult to him. Which professional athlete would want to muddle through to the end of such a big game?
Who would not want to score a goal or two and go down in history in a game like this? Wouldn’t it be better if he could be the hero that saved the team in distress?
Twain looked at the unfriendly-looking Vaughn and was happy.
That was the effect he wanted when he stifled Vaughn for 70 minutes. It would have been a failure if he had not been infuriated from being held back.
“Well, don’t say I did not give you a chance, James.” The way Twain was acting now felt a little “shameless” in Vaughn’s eyes. He only gave him 20 minutes. Could it even be considered a chance?
However, since this was now the situation, not to mention 20 minutes, Vaughn would even take ten minutes too. He did not say any other nonsense. He just nodded and did not want to delay any longer.
Twain discerned his thoughts and did not say anything else. He directly told him the mission, “Your task is simple, Vaughn. Just like the semifinal, score a goal. You are coming on at this time when the Italian defenders’ physical strength is at its weakest and when they are the least focused mentally. They have fully pressed ahead, so there will be a lot of gaps behind them. Seize them well.”
Twain gave him a push him again and pushed him to the sidelines. Then he gave him two pats on the back, hoping he would grasp the deep meaning within.
“The England team is asking for a substitution!”
Just at this moment, Gerrard had tripped Aquilani who had rushed up on the pitch. The Italian team scored another free kick at the edge of the penalty area.
The referee signaled for Balotelli to wait before he carried out the free kick as the England team wanted to make a substitution.
Downing, who was building a human wall, looked at the signboard in the hands of the fourth official at the sidelines, and then stepped out from the human wall. He slowly walked toward the sidelines. Chris Cohen was going to replace Downing.
Following which, Agbonlahor also walked toward the sidelines at the behest of his teammates. James Vaughn was going to replace him.
Both men received the latest instructions from Twain on the sidelines when they came off the field.
“Slow down! Walk off! Don’t run!”
Therefore, the two men weathered the widespread boos from the Italian fans and moved unhurriedly to the sidelines amid protests from the displeased Italian players. Cohen and Vaughn completed the handover.
Twain first shook hands with Downing and then gave Agbonlahor a hug as he said, “Well done, lad, ha!”
He had strongly advocated for Agbonlahor to be in the starting lineup. And he had scored the only goal in the game so far, so he did not embarrass him. Of course, he had to give him high praise.
If this had been ancient China, Agbonlahor would be bound to say, “Your loyal subject did not bring you shame and succeed in the mission!” However, he only asked cheerfully, “Boss, we’re going to be the champion, aren’t we?”
Twain nodded firmly and said, “That’s right, who else can it be but us?”
As he said that, he looked at the pitch. Vaughan and Cohen had just went on. Both of them were just squeezing into the human wall. The England and Italian players were fighting around the human wall.
There were still 20 minutes left in the game. He just hoped that it would just pass by and no complications would arise…