“I know you are a better player but with this form and fitness, I am afraid that you won’t be able to make it into the playing eleven this tournament. However, with reference to your previous performances and your passion for the game, I will consider you in my team. Hope this will keep you in good spirits.”
Raul loathed his coach for what he said. The team was to be announced for the Annual Inter-school Soccer Competition that day and he was confident after all the hard work in the training sessions that he’ll be playing the tournament starting next week. He was rather shattered than unhappy by that gloomy remark. At the end of the day; Santos, his skipper, came up to him and tried to lift him up.
“Dude, I would be very happy to be with my team in the bench than clapping in the stances. Cheer up. We need you and I’m pretty sure you’ll be leading us in the pitch very soon. Good luck.”
He replied the encouragement with a slow nod.
He was back in the game after a series of injuries. He was in the peak of his form last summer when he had scored 7 goals in 5 matches in the previous edition of the tournament. That was a dream run of performances for him. But, unfortunately, in the semi-finals, he was caught in the nasty challenge resulting in a serious fracture of the right ankle. They were thrashed 3-0 in the finals that year and he was ailing in the hospital bed. It took him almost 3 complete months to recover. He was so desperate to be in the pitch that the very next day after his complete recovery, he dribbled and kicked the football with the greatest satisfaction in the lonely school field for almost 2 hours.
His days were going fine after that. He was doing well both in the studies and the soccer. It was the final year of his school. Earlier that year, when everything was smooth, unfortunately, he was again down with severe typhoid. He was disappointed and worried about his chances in the tournament starting later that year. With no signs of recovery, he had completely given up. But, his father was so determined to see him winning the tournament that he took a leave from his business and devoted his time caring him. Raul was very thankful to his father. It was because of his audacious inspirations; Raul was able to build such a self esteem and self motivation that he recovered both physically and emotionally in no time.
The tournament began. Raul’s team comfortably booked a place in the semi-finals. He hadn’t had a match throughout the tournament but he was happy at the team’s performance. They were bubbling in confidence and fancied their chances in the final. As usual, the semi-final began in the late afternoon sun. He was in the bench. It was 80 minutes in the game and no goal was scored by either team. Javier, the lanky forward of their team, was showing some promise but in the mean time, he was fouled violently inside the opponent’s D-area. The referee awarded them a penalty. But, the bad news feared them; Javier was unable to continue and ruled out from the rest of the games. Santos came to the touch-line and said something in the coach’s ear. He smiled at Raul and winked his eye. Then, the coach came up to Raul and said that he was going into the field as Javier’s substitute. Raul was trembling with the excitement. He heard his father’s shout behind the bench and he was all set to play the game for the first time in almost ten months. He ran into the field. Santos took the penalty and with no surprise; they were leading 1-0. Raul got his first touch of the football in the dying minutes of the game. He was very elated to be back in the playing terms in all important semi-final of the tournament. The referee blew the whistle and they were into the much revered final of the tournament. Everyone was ecstatic. They congratulated each other for achieving that feat again. Raul could see his father smiling and punching the air ever so hard in the crowd.
It was a Saturday evening. It was a great moment of pride for Raul as he was in the starting lineup for the first time in the tournament that too in the final. His father was as proud as him holding a play card which read, “Raul! You can do it my boy.”
The game began. Raul’s team was all pumped up and ready to do the best. They made several attempts to net a goal within the early minutes but all efforts went in vain. Raul ran a promising ball from his defender into the opponent’s side and seeing Santiago alone, crossed it to him. Santiago dribbled beautifully into the D-area and triggered a mighty kick. The ball flew few inches above the bar. They were in full control of the game and had much of the possession for the rest of the first half. Raul created many chances for his forwards but there was no success. The opposition made only one attempt in the first half and it nearly went in. Thanks to their goalie Ricardo who dived full length to deny them the goal. It was a goal-less first half. The second half started. The opposition players were running hard this time. In the 48th minute, the opposition captain netted a goal with a fine header from a free-kick. Raul’s team pressed themselves even harder to repay the damage. Raul tried a right footed shot about 25 meters away from the post. Unfortunately, it bounced off the goal post. Next minute, he maneuvered a fine counter attack with combined efforts from Santos. But Santos was unable to convert the one on one chance against the keeper. In the 86th minute, a brilliant volley from opposing striker doubled their score and sealed their victory. Raul’s team tried hard but was unable to restore the pride. They were devastated by the defeat. Some guys sobbed and the others knelt numb in the pitch. Raul was jealous of the opponent boys’ smiles. They were defeated in the finals for two successive years. Despite the defeat, Raul was announced the man of the match. His father had a great pride in his efforts. After the medal ceremony, the coach came up to him and said, “You are a star performer my boy. I am proud of you.”
Their successor, the junior boy team, won the tournament this year.