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The England fans in the stands leaped from their seats, raising their arms high to cheer on their goalscoring hero. It as if there was an earthquake at the Bernabéu stadium. Even the camera lenses were trembling.
Amid the earthshattering cheers, Agbonlahor broke free of his teammates' tugs and hugs to run all the way to the technical area, where he gave Twain a strong hug. Everyone was aware that for him to be able to appear in the finals, it had a lot to do with Twain. And his goal was the best way to repay the trust of the boss.
"Ah ha! Twain's unexpected adjustment has left the Italians completely unable to respond! In the 24th minute, we are in the lead with one goal! Well done, Agbonlahor! Well done, Twain!" John Motson did not question Twain's subst.i.tution in his previous commentary, so at this point he was fully confident when he made these remarks at this time.
After he finished hugging Twain, Agbonlahor found Mitch.e.l.l in the crowd and rushed up to embrace him.
"This goal is for you, Aaron!" An excited Agbonlahor roared in Mitch.e.l.l's ear.
Mitch.e.l.l was a little surprised, but he was soon caught up in the mood of the players around him. He leaned down to tightly hug his teammate who was 21 cm shorter than himself. They were teammates twice over, both in the national team and the club team. He felt that perhaps due to this relations.h.i.+p, Agbonlahor would take the initiative to hug him after the goal.
"Well done, The Flas.h.!.+ Score another goal!" Mitch.e.l.l affectionately called him by the nickname he gave to Agbonlahor.
Twain was very satisfied to see the scene at the side. The atmosphere in the locker room was very harmonious. This team was united. With such a team, he was not afraid of any opponent.
The English people cheered for their lead, while the Italians were collectively silent.
Lippi did not get angry on the sidelines for the goal concede. In fact, whatever the situation was, it was hard to see him show his emotions on the sidelines. Now he was just sitting in the technical area. His eyes hidden behind the gold-rimmed gla.s.ses, were staring at the field. He was thinking about the mistakes they had made before.
He did not think Twain would let Agbonlahor be in the starting lineup. It was really unexpected. As a result, he did not make any targeted arrangements for Agbonlahor in the pre-match preparations. This led directly to his players not knowing what to do with Agbonlahor on the pitch. If England's number 18 had played a little more actively, it would have been a good thing for the Italian players would know from experience that he was an important figure and naturally s.h.i.+fted their defensive focus to him. However, as it happened, Agbonlahor's previous performance was like a sleepwalk, so that everyone, including himself, had lowered his status by several levels in their minds. They thought there was no threat to this kind of performance...
Now it seemed that Twain was indeed a master of psychological control and very good at a.n.a.lyzing the psychology of other people. He had figured out what he thought...
Lippi admitted that he made an empiricist error and took it for granted when it came to studying Twain's starting lineup - James Vaughan was outstanding in the semifinals and there was no news of any injury during training these few days, so he thought he would definitely be in the starting lineup for the final game. He did not expect Twain to stubbornly stood up to the enormous pressure and put Vaughn on the bench.
This opponent was interesting.
He got up from his seat and walked to the sidelines, making hand signals to the players on the field.
He wanted Chiellini to step up his defense against Agbonlahor and not give him that kind of chance easily. He believed that with the ability of the Italian defenders, as long as they attached importance to Agbonlahor, the other party should have little room to play.
Lippi's adjustment was well within Twain's antic.i.p.ation because if he was still unmoved after seeing Agbonlahor play actively and score the goal, then Lippi must have been brain-swapped by the aliens and was not normal.
He was not worried that Agbonlahor would be closely marked. Now that they were ahead of Italy, it did not matter even if Agbonlahor was subsequently rendered ineffective from the marking. The important thing was to hold on to the one-goal advantage and then use that advantage to lure the Italians out to make their tight defense non-existent.
He just asked the team to pay attention to the defense for a while to come.
Lippi did not intend to rush to equalize the score in the first half. Although the players were certain to be eager to fight back after the goal concede, it was only a matter of time before they returned.
The reason he was in no hurry to equalize the score was that a one-goal lead would be a huge psychological burden for the England team. Like running a marathon, it was an unwise move to be a leader from the start. No coach would let his own athletes develop such tactics. The person with real strength to win the t.i.tle must be hiding in the second group, maintaining the pressure on the leader at any time and overtaking at the last moment.
Lippi's current thinking was the same as those of the long-distance running coaches. He had thrown the intense mental pressure of being in the lead upon his opponent. Because it was not a regular game. It was the finals, the final game of the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p. As time went on, a one-goal lead would become a huge psychological burden for the England players. Everyone would think in their minds – we must absolutely never concede the goal. Otherwise our champions.h.i.+p will be gone...
This thinking would become heavier and heavier as time went on until England completely collapsed.
Lippi decided to make adjustments during the halftime interval and step up in the second half. By then, as long as the score was equalized, the huge psychological advantage would tip to the Italian side, and a fundamental reversal would happen to the situation on the pitch. At that time, there would be little time left in the game. Their morale would be boosted, while the England team would suffer a major blow. Ultimately, the victory must belong to the Italian team.
The Italian team organized a few attacks after the game resumed, wanting to equalize the score. But in the face of England's tight defense readied in advance, they did not manage to gain any traction, so they simply retreated.
Twain was happy at first - the Italians finally pressed out. However, after a brief moment of delight, it did not take long for him to find a problem.
The Italians did not panic about conceding a goal in the final and stormed up to surround and bombard England's penalty area – even though that was what Twain wanted to see. After a few attacks without any results, they immediately retracted and returned to their previous defensive counterattack stance as if they were the leading team.
It obviously had to do with the white-haired old man who directed the game on the sidelines.
Twain bowed his head in deep contemplation for a while and he guessed Lippi's idea.
Just like what he had often said to his players, "A one-goal lead is the least secured score in the world," it was not of his original creation, but just a generalization of what he had surmised. All the football managers in the world were aware of this kind of reasoning. Even if they were proponents of 1:0, they often had to mentally suffer the pressure from being bombarded by the other side surrounding the goal in the game and fearing that they might be equalized at any time.
Lippi must have thought so, intending to pa.s.s the psychological pressure on to the leading England team.
From this point of view, it was not a good thing to be in the lead too early...
In a long marathon race, the Englishmen took the lead in storming out the majority of their forces. While the seasoned Italians, on the other hand, were mostly hidden among their forces, keeping an appropriate distance away from the leading England team. In the beginning, it was a battle of skill and strength. But towards the end, things like skills and strength were no longer important. Mentality would eventually determine the champion.
Since that was the case, then he would let the team continue to strengthen the offensive and make the one-goal lead into a two-goal lead!
Twain walked to the sidelines and looked at the field. It was at this moment he remembered: England's forward line had been largely frozen after Lippi asked Chiellini to step up his defense against Agbonlahor. Even if he wanted to step up the offensive, how should he do it?
Twain scolded in his heart, "That old fox!"
Agbonlahor was not, after all, a true center forward. Once he was closely marked by the opposing defender in the penalty area, the function of his role was actually quite small. At this point Twain would especially miss Mitch.e.l.l. At least his headers would help the team tear up the Italian defense.
With the two managers were fighting a battle of wits on the sly, the remaining time in the first half of the game was no different from before the goal was scored. The England team attacked ferociously and wanted to score another goal before the end of the first half, while the Italians solidified their defensive build-up and were determined not to let the Englishmen get what they wanted.
Right up till the last minute, Twain did not see his team breach the goal for the second time.
The England team entered the locker room with a one-goal lead. The Italians, who was behind by a goal, was not so frustrated. Lippi's face was calm as he walked back down the tunnel, making it difficult to guess whether he was satisfied or dissatisfied with the situation.
The commentators from various countries had expressed optimism about the England team one by one.
"The England team is one goal ahead! In such a final, the side which first scores a goal must have the advantage. And more advantageously, they have maintained this lead until the halftime interval!"
"England's tactics were so successful that the Italians did not expect Agbonlahor to become the England team's goalscorer. They had neglected to mark him. Despite their subsequent tight watch on England's number 18, the reality remains that they are a goal behind..."
"The first half was fantastic! It did not turn out to be as dreary as I had expected before. England's aggressive att.i.tude has earned my respect. Their efforts also deservedly paid off - one goal to take the lead! The champion belongs to the aggressive side, belongs to the offensive football!"
Even the England fans were pleased with the result.
In the stands, Skinny Bill was extremely thrilled about the first half and shouted, "That's fantastic! We're actually ahead!"
"Hey, Bill, what do you mean by that? Don't tell me we shouldn't have been ahead?" Someone next to him feigned anger.
"Nonsense, of course, we should be in the lead! I just did not expect it to go so well! As long as we maintain this result, we can win the champions.h.i.+p t.i.tle! Tony is the best at defense. Under such circ.u.mstances, he can definitely win the game! It's only an hour before we win the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p for the first time in our history... Just thinking about it makes me excited!" Bill was not lying. He was slightly shaking.
"Tony really had the good idea of letting Agbonlahor start. Not even I, a Forest fan, could antic.i.p.ate it. I think Lippi and the others must not have thought so. Otherwise, why was there no one to specifically defend against Agbonlahor?"
"That's right! Before the game everyone was talking about Vaughn, Vaughn... I'm sick of hearing it. The best result will be that England wins the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p and our Nottingham Forest players scores the only goal, ha ha!"
The fans and commentators were extremely optimistic, but Twain was not bullish at all. As he walked into the locker room, every England player could see the creases in between his eyebrows. It was clear that their boss was not happy with the one-goal lead, but rather worried about something.
The players always thought less than the manager because they were the players and they were only responsible for implementing the manager's tactical intent on the pitch. To put it in a not-so-nice way, they were tools while the manager was the captain steering the team. He must think more than any other clever player and look further afield. Or his s.h.i.+p would hit a submerged reef unknowingly, stranded if it was not so serious or worse, sank.
At the moment, none of the players could think of the crisis they would face next. Maybe it would not happen, but Twain had thought of it. He would have to consider it regardless of whether it happened or not. His task was to try to prevent bad things from happening.
"We're one goal ahead and that's very good, guys. It is reasonable to say that I should praise you at this time and congratulate you. But I'm sorry that I can't do it at the moment." Twain shook his head and said, "I've thought about the crisis we may face in the second half and I want you to know that a one-goal lead is definitely not a good thing."
The players thought their manager would say, "A one-goal lead is the least secured score in the world" but it was not the case.
Twain just said, "The Italian team is used to gaining mastery by striking only after the enemy has struck. Think of the 2006 World Cup final in Germany, how did Italy equalize the score under the circ.u.mstances of trailing behind by one goal and dragging the game into a penalty shootout to eventually defeating France to pick up the gold trophy? We can learn from the previous mistakes of the French team and we cannot be satisfied with the score. In the second half if it's possible, I would like you to try to seize opportunities to score..."
"You've done a good job, gentlemen." Lippi was in the locker room, speaking to his players. He was not in a hurry. The tone and manners of his speech were still elegant. "I'm not mocking you. I'm actually glad that you only concede one goal to England in the first half. Now it's time to think about our counterattack."
"In the first half we gave England the chance to take the ball at will in our midfield and that will no longer be the case in the second half. We need to regain control of the midfield." He glanced at De Rossi and Aquilani. These two men would be the key.
"Their two sides pressed forward quite tightly. We will take advantage of that in the second half. Paloschi, you have to run more toward the sidelines in the second half to get more chances in this way. Foti, you continue to stay in the middle. We need you to make the transition in the middle to provide support and push their rear defensive line toward inside to create s.p.a.ce for our midfield."
The two forwards nodded. They were barely seen in the first half, and some people even suspected they had not played. For them, the 45 minutes of the first half were a real torment. They desperately needed to do something in the second half. It was the final of the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p and no one wanted to do nothing in such a game. Just looking at Agbonlahor, the kid was like a sleepwalking man before, but once he scored the goal, he became a hero.
"In the second half, we will stop the strong offensive and change to a steady counterattack."
No one was surprised when Twain said it. Because it was what they knew the day before the game. According to their plan, it was to try to score a goal to take the lead in the first half, and then gradually shrink the defense in the second half to start to play defensive counterattack. It was either to retain this one-goal advantage or taking the opportunity to launch a sneak attack to widen the score when the other side pressed on with the attack while eager to equalize the score.
It was the England team counting its chickens before they were hatched. It was difficult to say if it would be successful.
"We have to be quick during the counterattack..." Twain looked at Agbonlahor when he said this. He would continue to play in the second half rather than be replaced immediately. Because he had amazing speed, which was a very important weapon in the counterattack.
"Gabriel." Twain called his name and said, "In the second half you don't have to be at the fore front anymore. You have to actively retreat and pick up the ball in the midfield. We also have to pa.s.s the ball in front of us during our pa.s.ses, giving Agbonlahor and Rooney s.p.a.ce to run. But if the counterattack is blocked, you must immediately stop and put the ball under your feet. Do not easily waste the opportunity to attack."
Hearing Twain say so, Agbonlahor knew he would not be replaced too early while the other person would not feel good.
James Vaughan knew Agbonlahor would continue to be trusted. He looked down at his jersey. There was also a T-s.h.i.+rt inside that said, "We're with you, Aaron." It was what he specially prepared for Mitch.e.l.l.
But now it looked like it might not come in handy. He was wondering if he should take it off in a while. After all, it was a little hot wearing two T-s.h.i.+rts.
Since he could not make an appearance, then why would he still wear the T-s.h.i.+rt with the written words?