Seventeen penalties. Three missed by them. Two by us. And now, one glorious chance to lift the trophy.
They had called him ‘the kid’ ever since he made his debut for the national side aged a mere sixteen years and four months. But now, aged twenty, it was up to him to become a man.
He stepped towards the penalty spot and picked up the ball. It was still slippery from the second half rain. He positioned it just on the edge of the grassy white dot, took a couple of steps back and waited for the ref to blow his whistle.
If he scored, they would surely erect a statue. He’d be the kid – the man – who’d brought his country the highest honour there is in this sport. If he missed… he couldn’t bear to think what would happen if he missed.
The whistle blew. He started his approach.
Left leg. The keeper was staring him right in the face.
Right leg. The keeper didn’t budge. He had eyes only for the ball.
Left leg again. The penultimate hurdle. Time to make up his mind. Time to pick a corner.
Right leg. The noise subsided. No more cheers. No more boos. Just the sound of his pounding heart.
His choice was made. Top right.
His foot struck the ball.
That’s the last thing he remembered before waking up hung-over in the bar of their hotel. As he stumbled to his feet his eye caught the TV playing the highlights of the game. For the first time he saw what he had done.
And he cried.
Like a man.
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