There were about twenty minutes left. We were up one. A lot of teams would revert to cautionary tactics at this point. Juventus was simply a team far too dangerous in the attack to keep playing free flowing football with. But we were not other teams, neither were we scared of them. We prided ourselves on playing entertaining football, winning whilst having fun at it. To retreat and simply wait on our opponents barrage otherwise known as ‘parking the bus’ in defense would be viewed as cowardly by our fans. So we continued, dashing forward when the need presented itself and trying our best to keep Juventus from venturing into our goal area.
Sometimes despite one’s very best effort, it just isn’t good enough. We kept Milan at bay, but only for so long. They pressed and pressed, and kept throwing all they had at us. I give my teammates a lot of credit for they defended valiantly that day. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Kanewa was the recipient of a through ball, beating two defenders to calmly place the ball in the net with 15 minutes to go. Their fans erupted in a deafening roar. Ours could only stare on in shock, their silence just as profound as the reaction of their counterparts. We felt like we had just watched our magnificently built sand castle just get washed away by a surging wave.
Our mojo as some would call it, immediately went out the door. It’s hard to get your spirits up after you’ve played so hard, only to concede a goal by a momentary lapse of judgement. But yet, our woes were about to be compounded. Approximately 5 minutes after their equalizer, we were called for a hand ball foul in our penalty area and Juventus was awarded a penalty. Despite our furious protests, the referee refused to budge. The decision had been made and the penalty was to be taken. I couldn’t even look at Kanewa as he walked up to the spot. From the crowd’s reaction, I knew he had scored.
Words cannot begin to describe the emotions that were spreading through my body, and from the looks on my teammates faces, it wasn’t alien to just me. We had been up for most of the match, only to see our fortunes change hands in the span of five minutes. With such short time left, it would be a Herculean task scoring again or at least ending this game on a respectable note. Despite the obvious lack of enthusiasm, we were professionals and we knew what was at stake. In football one never gives up until the final minute and the ref blows his whistle for stoppage. I have seen some miraculous last gasp efforts that would put even the staunchest of pessimists to shame. Miracles occur often in this wonderful game that I call a job, and maybe Milan was due for one I thought to myself.
And so we set upon the task to score on Juventus whilst doing our best to keep them at bay. Not an enviable position to be, because they happen to be one of the toughest teams to beat. They had really good defenders but that wasn’t what made them so tough to score on. It was the fact that they were simply too good at holding on to the ball, passing and spreading it amongst themselves, dominating possession and preventing the other team from getting chances. They were so methodical in the way they played, quick precise passes, moving together in one hypnotic rhythm, like a wave slowly but surely advancing on all fronts till it reached the shore.
These guys could pass the ball for hours with the other team barely getting a chance. I had never seen anything like it in all my years of playing and I must admit, whilst mesmerizing from afar, up close it was nauseating. To run around chasing the ball, unsure of getting it, but nonetheless committing yourself to retrieving it because its all you can do to launch one last salvo. Things didn’t work out the way we were hoping, but the results were still beneficial to us. I have stated in the past that football can be quite unpredictable; you can never truly plan the outcome of a game. Such an occurrence was about to gift us with an outcome that many on Juventus’ side would be bitter about till today.
Juventus had the ball, with about a minute to go. They decided they would go on one last offensive, why they thought this was a good is beyond me. I suppose when you are quite confident in your offensive prowess you don’t need to worry about being cautious. They were on the edge of our box when Kanewa was brought down by my teammate.
I thought it was a fair tackle, he did go after the ball, but because of the position and how Kagewa fell, it looked like it should have been a foul. His teammates were temporarily stunned, hoping the referee would call it in their favor but instead play was allowed to continue. Whilst they were trying to argue what had just happened, we launched a quick counter attack. I raced down the field as another teammate of mine sped down the flanks with the ball. I knew he was going to cross it to the middle, I just didn’t want to mis-time it. There were only a few seconds left and we would never get a chance like this again. Most of Milan’s players were still behind by now realizing they weren’t getting the call, sprinting back to try and prevent our attack. There was only one guy trying to cover me, my eyes lit up seeing my advantage.
It was too little to late for Juventus, my teammate swiftly launched the ball with a perfect cross, guiding it onto my head which in turn directed it onto the net.