38 A Clinical Player

The second half started soon after. Rosenborg's senior team maintained its dominance. The club outplayed the academy players, leaving them with no chance to create scoring opportunities for themselves.

They dictated the gameplay and created several other chances at goal in the first 30 minutes of the 2nd half. However, the NF academy had arrayed into something similar to an 8-2 formation.

Their five defenders and three midfielders all defended desperately against Rosenborg's attacks in their half. Eight men were always behind the ball as they withstood attack after attack from the senior team. Even Örjan Börmark, the lone striker, helped in the defensive midfield. Their efforts paid off—and they did not concede another goal.

Zachary was the only forward on the center-line in the left-wing. He was guarded by Jim Larsen, one of Rosenborg's center backs, the entire time.

"You guys are boring," Jim Larsen said, pretending to yawn. "How did you manage to put four goals past our under-19 team? It seems like they were sleeping the whole game. Those kids!" The defender's tone was somewhat dramatic.

Zachary didn't reply. He had no verbal counter for the defender's jabs. He had waited for the entire half without touching the ball. The NF Academy hadn't gotten any shot on goal from the beginning of the second half.

Zachary had wanted to return to his half—to help his teammates, instead of conversing with the Rosenborg defenders. However, Coach Johansen continued reminding him to cool his heels without backing the defense. His only role was to wait for the ball and utilize whatever chances could come along his way—however scarce they were. The opportunities were close to none except in the latter part of the half.

In the 80th minute, Zachary finally received a pass from Magnus that had caught the Rosenborg players off-guard. The incoming ball was not the best. However, it bounced in the open space in the left-wing and could be contested by anyone.

Zachary's blood boiled with excitement as adrenaline flooded his veins. He set off before Jim Larsen could react and bolted towards the ball. That split-second faster-reaction was all that mattered to leave the Rosenborg center-back in the dust.

In a flash, he reached the ball before it went out of play—and raced towards the Rosenborg box. He cut into the pitch unobstructed since the Rosenborg players had all been attacking in the other half, except for their two center backs.

Per Rönning, the other center-back came running diagonally to close down Zachary. But the number-5 had made a mistake, attempting to close down Zachary with his back facing him. Zachary flicked the ball back and forth between his left and right feet as he advanced wavily towards the Rosenborg box.

Per Rönning kept backing off while turning from side to side until it was too late. Zachary had dribbled past the center back with just a simple change of pace and was one-on-one with the keeper. The chasing defenders could not keep up with him once he got past them.

A feint then sent him around goalkeeper Daniel Örlund and allowed him to slot the ball into the empty net. 3:1. The NF academy had finally put one past the Rosenborg defense despite having only one shot at goal the entire match.

"DING"

Zachary couldn't contain his happiness as he heard the familiar system notification going off within his mind. He'd completed the system mission and scored a goal. He finally had enough capital to purchase some elixirs from the system shop for his next training plan.

****  ****

Trond Henriksen, the assistant coach of Rosenborg, approached Coach Boyd Johansen after Zachary had scored the goal.

"That's one clinical player," Coach Henriksen said, without bothering with any greetings. The two coaches had already met before the match began. "His efficiency and ball handling are at the level of the first team. Was he that fast when he joined?"

Coach Johansen removed his attention from the celebrating academy players and smiled. "I don't think so." He shook his head. "He has been improving rapidly over the past year. He's a very hard-working kid. I'm sure he'll continue to get faster and better over the coming year."

"Seems like Mr. Stein's vision is still as sharp as ever." Coach Henriksen nodded. "How old is he now?"

"16 years and making 17 in a few months. Our doctors have already confirmed his skeletal age."

"So, about one more year to go," Coach Henriksen mumbled, returning his attention to the match.

Zachary's goal seemed to have poked a hornets' nest. Rosenborg attacked with newfound vigor, applying immense pressure on the NF academy team. The balls smashed off goalposts—shots missed by mere inches, as the senior team bore down on the academy's goal.

However, the goddess of luck seemed to be on the side of the NF academy. The team narrowly survived conceding goals in the final minutes of the game. The game ended 3:1 in favor of Rosenborg. However, NF academy had managed to score with only a single shot at the goal, courtesy of Zachary Bemba.

"We have reviewed your request," Coach Henriksen intoned after the referee blew the final whistle. "The team management also wants him to gain some experience from international matches." The coach smiled. "However, we require a commitment from him before he travels out of the country. He should understand that we are investing in him as a potential Rosenborg player. We don't want to hear he's run off to another club after the tournament in Riga. You can work out the details with Mr. Stein on how to handle this."

"Thank you," Coach Johansen said, smiling.

"Will you be taking your position on the second team right away?" Coach Henriksen inquired, diverting the topic away from Zachary.

"Not yet." Coach Johansen shook his head. "I would like to win one of the tournaments before leaving the academy. The Riga and SIA cups will look good on my CV." The coach smiled.

Coach Henriksen gave his colleague an arch look. "You're that sure that you'll win? Those are tournaments with serious club academies like Manchester City, PSV, Valencia, and Atalanta."

Coach Johansen half-smiled. "With Zachary, we have a pretty good chance."

"What plans do you have for him?"

"We'll design a good training plan for him to improve his speed and ball-handling over the next few months. By February, his pace should be at another level if he continues progressing."

"Just don't forget to run everything by old man Stein," Coach Henriksen warned.

Coach Johansen frowned but nodded after a moment of deliberation.

****  ****

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