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Anyway, he now had a feeling surging within his chest. He would not be satisfied with just going on and running a couple of laps in the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p final. The team's starting lineup had eleven players, but only a goalscorer could leave his name in the final. As a striker, he innately had more advantage than the other teammates in other positions. So, what was the purpose of f.e.c.klessly running for dozens of minutes?
Of course, he wanted to score goals!
He must score a goal!
Agbonlahor threw himself into the game again. It was clearly seen that he was more actively running and moving than he had been before, and that he no longer seemed to be stationed at the forefront. Instead, he had pulled out of the opponent's penalty area and took the initiative to raise his hand for the ball.
With regards to his change, Twain was very satisfied, so he also did not continue to supervise the game on the sidelines but went back to the technical area to drink water.
Everyone in the coaching unit was aware of why he wanted Agbonlahor to be in the starting lineup and give up on Vaughn. But they could not tell the players the reason why, because it was related to whether the team could win the game.
Three minutes later, England's sustained offensive finally created a chance for Agbonlahor. After receiving Wood's pa.s.s on the edge of the penalty area, he broke through to the penalty area to face the goalkeeper, Amelia. He attempted to get around the other person using his outer instep of his foot. Unfortunately, the arc was slightly too wide, and it went straight out of the far end of the goalpost.
The Englishmen felt a great pity for the shot while the Italians broke out in a cold sweat.
But the commentators who opposed Agbonlahor in the starting lineup were still picking on his faults as they said, "What a shame! If it had been Vaughn, maybe he would have gotten it in..."
The statement was completely irresponsible because James Vaughn's shooting was not so accurate down to the millimeters. Shooting required some luck. With some good luck, even a terrible shot could score a goal, and it might even be a world-cla.s.s goal. If there was bad luck, even a striker with the level of Romário would also miss his shot with an empty goal. Moreover, in terms of having the experience of a major compet.i.tion, Agbonlahor was clearly stronger than Vaughan, as Nottingham Forest was still able to play in important tournaments like the Champions League in previous years and Agbonlahor had also won. Twain put Agbonlahor in the starting lineup was not simply an act of cronyism. It was only because Agbonlahor did have the ability to be in the starting lineup in such an important game.
The main reason for the media's criticism was that Agbonlahor had only scored one goal in this UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p which was really not compatible with his position as a striker. However, he did a fairly decent job in the right back position.
Agbonlahor's shot failed to score a goal but Twain stood on the sidelines to applaud his performance just now. There was no problem with the use of his technique. It was just a bit of bad luck...
Agbonlahor himself could not hear the commentators' remarks about himself. He was able to locate an area which he could make use of through this shot.
In the attack that followed, Agbonlahor was more likely to appear in the flanks of the Italian team's rear defensive line – the area between the center back and the full back was a position that made things difficult for the other team. It was sort of an unregulated area, which was tricky for everyone.
Wood also discovered this, and he had his own plans.
Generally speaking, Rooney should be the England team's main offensive point because he was physically strong, had excellent techniques and experienced. But these were just text and line diagrams on the tactical board. When it came to the actual game, it was not possible for Rooney to get that many chances. Mitch.e.l.l was suspended and Vaughan, who excelled in the semifinals, was put on the bench by Twain. In the eyes of the Italians, the most threatening man in the England team's forward line was Rooney, and there was no reason why they should let him be.
As a result, in the actual games, Rooney suffered from the toughest defense.
Just looking at Criscito, one would know how risky it was to pa.s.s the ball to him...
Wood was a man, not a machine. With the instructions received before the game, he had the right to modify according to the situation on the pitch. Now that Rooney's path was not working, he had to change the way. He took aim at Agbonlahor, who had moved like a sleepwalker earlier.
He did not know why Twain did not let Vaughn play, but he did not think that Agbonlahor was incapable or unqualified to be in the starting lineup. Furthermore, in his view, Agbonlahor's previous sleepwalking performance was a big advantage. If it was well taken advantage of, it could produce an unexpected effect for the Italians.
Because his previous poor performance had already caused the Italian defenders to relax on the marking of him. Now the Italians must think in in their hearts that Agbonlahor must not pose a threat to them, right?
That would be fantastic...
Wood ran to the front field to partic.i.p.ate in the attack and Gerrard pa.s.sed the ball back to him. Wood gave the football directly to Agbonlahor in the flanks. Sure enough, when he got the ball, the Italian defenders did not pounce over to him at the first instance.
Agbonlahor took advantage of the little time to quickly complete the turn of his body to face the goal.
When Chiellini pounced over, he was not engrossed in dribbling the ball inside, but suddenly diverted the football to the middle!
The Italians really did not expect the move. Gerrard in the middle received the pa.s.s and did not hesitate to swing his leg for a long shot!
Fortunately, Amelia was very focused, and Gerrard's long shot was firmly pressed under his body.
But this attack made the Italians aware of one thing - Agbonlahor was still the guy who pa.s.sed the ball to someone else and he was definitely not England's main attacking direction.
This reinforced the Italian defenders' thinking to focus on Rooney and Gerrard.
"Actually, in the first half our tactics were not suitable for Agbonlahor to play..." Walker said to Twain, standing on the sidelines. "He's better suited to counterattacks, and I think he should be more useful to bring on after we're ahead..."
"Most people think so too, including Italians." Twain turned his head to say to Walker as he shook his head. "Agbonlahor is too fast and dazzling. Everyone had formed a fixed idea of him. Including the current Nottingham Forest manager... But I don't think so. In all the years he has played for me, he'd have been out of the team if he only uses his speed to play. He has another side, which is just not very noticeable. I'm just trying to make use his un.o.btrusive side to help me open the situation."
At this point, Twain laughed and said, "Now the Italian players think so too."
He pointed to the field for Walker to see.
Agbonlahor's position was pulled back a little, but not one of the Italian defenders pulled out to follow and defend against him. The Italian midfielders players were all paying attention to Gerrard and Wood, who frequently plugged in from behind, as well as two other wingers.
Agbonlahor was raising his hand for the ball. He had not forgotten to look around to see the situation around him. Unsurprisingly, no one noticed him. He was taken lightly.
Agbonlahor was angry about such treatment, but Twain was laughing instead. And he laughed happily.
"Lippi..." He glanced next door and said, "is a very cautious manager, but he did not think I'd let Agbonlahor, who has performance averagely in this tournament, to be in the starting lineup, so he certainly did not make any targeted arrangements for Agbonlahor. It's all up to the players to judge. You know, Des. Everyone makes mistakes. They have their own ideas, and that's something the manager can't control..."
Under Lippi's repeated emphasis, the Italian players, gave the England team a high degree of attention. But Agbonlahor, who was outside of the plan, was not given the respect he deserved. Of course, his previous poor performance "helped" him. No one would waste time on a player who was not in good form. Compared to Agbonlahor, even George Wood's shots were more threatening.
Wood did not plan to tell his teammates what he thought, and then for everyone to pa.s.s the ball to Agbonlahor. This was a gamble to bet that the Italians would not react so quickly. If the England team had fed Agbonlahor the ball, it would only expose the real intent. So, he decided to do it alone.
It was certainly a bit of a risk. But as the team's metronome and core, choosing when to take the risk and when to be conservative was basically within his remit.
Agbonlahor raised his hand again for the ball, and Wood pa.s.sed the ball over. Then he charged forward and made a move to look like he was going to do "one-two combination" with Agbonlahor. The Italian defenders did fall for the ploy. Whether it was Chiellini or Aquilani, they all turned their attention to him and ignored Agbonlahor, who had already gotten the ball.
Receiving the ball and turning at the same time, Agbonlahor did not intend to pa.s.s the ball. He looked up to see a straight path through to the penalty area ...
In the flank of the defensive line between Chiellini and De Vita, there was a crack, from which Agbonlahor could see the penalty area.
After Agbonlahor falsely appeared to look like he was going to pa.s.s the ball, he suddenly pushed the ball forward and then set in movement!
Chiellini was watching Wood, while De Vita was marking the "Tiger" Walcott. No one expected Agbonlahor to choose to dribble the ball on his own to see a breakthrough!
He was really fast. In a flash he already had rushed in, and that was when Chiellini began to turn around...
"Stop him!" De Rossi cried panicked a little.
Criscito charged in from the side. Once again, he made a crucial decision to drop Rooney and pounce toward Agbonlahor. It was all out of the instinct of a good defender.
Agbonlahor, who broke into the penalty area, also did not hold back and immediately lifted his leg to shoot at the goal. Just at the same moment, Criscito did a slide tackle and shoveled him out along with the ball!
"A penalty shot!" John Motson screamed.
"A beautiful defense!" It was the voice of the Italian commentator.
Agbonlahor, who fell to the ground, thought he could hear the whistle for the penalty shot, but there was nothing. The ball that was shoveled by Criscito was kicked out by Chiellini, who had rushed back. The referee gave no indication of Criscito's action, and Agbonlahor jumped angrily from the ground. He rushed toward the indifferent-looking a.s.sistant referee to complain, "It's a foul! It's a foul!"
Like him, there were other England players who were equally unhappy. Wood ran to the referee and pointed to the penalty area to remind him that Criscito's defense was absolutely a foul. Rooney was also upset for Agbonlahor even though he made a gesture to get Agbonlahor to pa.s.s the ball to him when Criscito headed for Agbonlahor.
The referee simply waved his hands at Wood's protest, signaling that he was clear about it and he did not have to say more.
Twain was also angry off the field, but the man who endured his rants and spats was the fourth official.
"Please believe the referee's decision. Not every fall to the ground is a foul..." In the face of the manager, who was described by the media as a demon, the fourth official showed a lack of confidence when he said these words.
"This is why I support the use of electronic eyes instead of referees! Humans make mistakes!" Twain threw out the remark and walked back in anger. He knew that he would not get the penalty shot no matter how much noise he made. The referee's decision was not allowed to be changed. Looking for the fourth official was just to vent his feeling of dissatisfaction. It was not good for the health of his heart to bottle those feelings ...
England still did not get the penalty spot and the Italians had a narrow escape. They began to pay attention to Agbonlahor and closely mark him. They no longer gave him the s.p.a.ce to move freely. Any fool could see that the sleepwalker was gradually waking up. Not to mention Lippi's displeasure with the Italian team's defensive performance on the pitch just now. He reminded them to stand guard against Agbonlahor.
They still thought Agbonlahor was not a threat as long as they did not give him the s.p.a.ce to sprint with the ball.
Twain started calling Walcott's name off the pitch and Walcott, who had returned from the recovery of his injury in the first half, was not active enough in his performance.
"Take more b.a.l.l.s, what are you afraid of? Do more crosses... from the byline!"
"George! Go over and coordinate more with him... Yes, yes, that's it!"
Walcott and Wood ran forward after a one-two combination on the sideline. Then Wood gave him a pa.s.s over the head to bypa.s.s De Vita's defense.
Once he received Wood's pa.s.s, Walcott crossed the ball from the byline. Rooney grabbed the point of all in the middle, but he was clearly unable to contend against Italy's entire rear defensive line. The football was headed out by Chiellini.
Despite the lack of success in the attack, Twain still applauded the players' performance off the field.
The England fans were also clapping. Because the strong attacking stance that the England team displayed had completely suppressed the Italian team.
The Italian commentator did not think so and remarked, "I think the situation is currently in our favor. The more the English players attack, the better our chances of winning. When Lippi decided to use defensive counterattack before, I was still worried that the England team wouldn't come attacking and in that way, we couldn't win the game. Now, it's all good. There is one side willing to play along first and I think the game will be over within 90 minutes ..."
After Walcott and Downing increased the pa.s.ses from the sides, Agbonlahor seemed to be forgotten again. He did not have excellent header skills and did not have the upper hand in jumping to compete for headers. But Rooney frequently appeared in front of the goal and compete against the Italian defenders.
But Agbonlahor himself did not give up. He was still looking for a chance to score a goal, like a hunter waiting patiently for the rabbit to appear in front of him.
When Walcott dribbled the ball to break through again, the Italian defenders split into two group. One group was to prevent him from breaking through and the other to keep a close eye on Rooney and Gerrard.
This time Walcott did not simply overtake by relying on speed and then cross from the byline. He made a feint to cross, tricking De Vita to s.h.i.+ft his center of gravity. Instead, he suddenly slammed the ball between De Vita's legs and then made use of his nimble figure to get past De Vita.
"A beautiful way to knock the ball past the opponent."
Walcott, who broke through De Vita, made Italy's defensive line extremely nervous because cracks had already appeared in their defensive line. Walcott could either continue to break through on his own, or he could cross the ball now. He could even directly strike the goal.
Chiellini rushed toward Walcott. While Rooney was very important, it was always important to remember during defense that the player who had the ball was the most dangerous.
Walcott pa.s.sed the ball while he was rus.h.i.+ng up. He did not pa.s.s to Rooney nor to Gerrard, but to Agbonlahor who was hanging near the penalty spot.
Agbonlahor was not unmarked. Aquilani was next to him. Seeing him receive the ball, he came forward to interfere.
Agbonlahor lifted his leg to act as if he was going to shoot at the goal, so Aquilani simply threw his center of gravity.
It was almost instinctive. Agbonlahor basically did not have the frame of mind to think about why he would receive the ball as well as what he should do next. Seeing that he had thrown Aquilani off balance, he simply knocked the ball to the left and ducked to the other side. It just looked like there was more than one trouble...
Having just evaded Aquilani, De Rossi appeared in front of Agbonlahor again, blocking the angle of his shot.
Agbonlahor once again picked up his feet to act as if he was going to shoot. This time De Rossi was not fooled. He stood in place and did not move ...
"He should have pa.s.sed the ball! Rooney's asking for the ball!"
His hesitation will lead to the failure of this attack. He already has no angle and s.p.a.ce to shoot..."
"Our defense is very successful. Agbonlahor now has to either send the ball out or wait for the ball to be intercepted!"
De Rossi thought Agbonlahor must have made a feint this time, but he did not expect when Agbonlahor's right foot came down, he really hit the football ...
It was a very covert shot. Agbonlahor used the tip of his toes to poke the football under the circ.u.mstances of being unable to use force to kick in place. In order to exert as much force as possible, his body had to lean back to help with the push.
The football, which was poked by the toe tips, flew straight between De Rossi's legs towards the goal.
De Rossi's position blocked the angle of Agbonlahor's shot, but he was unable to narrow the gap between his legs. Instead it blocked the goalkeeper, Amelia's line of sight. When Amelia saw the football flying towards the goal post, he was already too late to make any save. He could only turn his head to look as the football flew toward the goal while he prayed in his heart that it would not enter the goal at the same time. It was best that it would just brush against the goalpost to fly out...
Unfortunately, the Italian's prayer were not heard by G.o.d. The football brushed against the goalpost to fly into the goal!
"What?" The Italians had not reacted yet. Looking at it from the stands, it appeared as if the football brushed against the goalpost to fly out of the goal and swept the side of the net, giving people the illusion that the ball went in. But when they saw the referee's gesture, they were stunned - the referee's finger pointed to the center circle, which effectively meant that it was a goal!
"It's truly unbelievable! England has taken the lead!"
"Agbonlahor! That's right! He scored the first goal in the final! He has helped England to take the lead!"
"When blocked by two Italian players, Agbonlahor calmly shot straight! Beautiful!"
At this moment, the commentators totally changed their tone and switched to praising Agbonlahor's performance. No one mentioned the matter of whether he was qualified to replace Vaughn to be in the starting lineup anymore ...
Off the field, after Twain saw Agbonlahor kick the ball into the goal, he jumped up excitedly and hugged Walker next to him.
Agbonlahor's goal took away a heavy load off himself and Twain. Even if Agbonlahor was brought off later in the game... Or, more extremely, even if England eventually lost the final, no one would question Twain's adjustment anymore.
Agbonlahor was so excited after he scored the goal. He could not stand properly when he got up from the ground. He almost fell to the ground again. After running staggeringly to the technical area, he gave Twain an enthusiastic embrace. He had to thank the boss. If he had not insisted on sending him on the pitch, and if he had not roared to wake him up off the field, then the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p final would perhaps have been a permanent regret for him in his professional career.
Now it had all worked out. He scored the goal, and there was no regret. He was a striker who had scored in the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p final. He could already face others' scrutiny with his head held high and chest puffed out.
He had used his actions to prove that he was qualified and had the ability to represent England in the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p final. Whatever Vaughn had thought, Agbonlahor was a well-deserved starting striker at this time!
"Well done, kid!" Twain patted Agbonlahor on the back and shouted in his ear.