This was me last night:
We had our indoor soccer playoffs yesterday, and we arrived to play our semi-final with only the minimum compliment of ladies, so those two had to play the entire game without substitutions. In the close-quarters indoor game, that's a difficult task. But, we played a smart and careful game and I made some key saves in goal, and came through with a close 3-1 victory, the third goal coming only seconds before the buzzer, putting the game away for good.
We then had to play the Final immediately following, still tired from the first game, against a team that has much improved over the past two years, still with no lady subs until relief arrived halfway through. This game had more offense than the last and kept going back and forth, back and forth, until the buzzer went at an even 5-5 draw.
Then came the dreaded shootout. Officially, a horrible way to end a soccer game, but man was that intense! So much pressure on the keeper (i.e. me) to get in front of those shots, but with such a big net, you end up having to guess a lot of the time. If you wait to see which direction they're shooting, you have no time to dive across to get in the way. It's a balance of quick-feet, keen eye, and lucky charms.
The format goes three shots per side - alternating guys and girls - and then single shots if it remains tied, again alternating gender. We shoot first: Blocked. They follow and miss the right post. We get another shot blocked, and they again shoot just past the right post. Our third shot is stopped, and the cocky-bastard member of our opposing team winds up. The previous two shots just missed the right post, so gambling that I would dive in the same direction, he continues his cocky ways by kicking directly at me, thinking I will jump away.
He gambled wrongly.
I stood my ground and snuggled the ball neatly under my knees. Three shots a piece, and no goals yet. Our fourth shot comes up, and the ball meets the twine. Here comes the moment: if I stop this shot, we win the championship and celebrate; if not, we continue for more nail-biting penalty kicks. The photo above is of Ricardo stopping Cole's penalty kick in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, which led to Portugal's victory over England and advancement in the tournament, eventually to the Final. At the beckoning of the legendary Eusebio, Ricardo made the save bare-handed. Looking to create my own football glory, I pulled off my gloves and got ready for the final shot...
OK, so it didn't work. The shot went over my head and I deflected it upward with my hands, but I didn't get enough of it to keep it from just getting behind the crossbar. All right, that was a bad idea; gloves back on.
To be honest, I'm not sure how many shots followed; it just kept going, every shot being matched. Each keeper allowed a goal on what I think was the sixth shot, blocking the fifth and seventh. Our captain blasts shot number eight, but the keeper gets in front of it, and we have another do or die moment. If I stop this shot, we continue; otherwise we go home at a loss. Having gone through their entire rotation, up steps their first shooter again: a giant, burly man with a rocket of a shot. I sweat even more profusely.
The man steps forward, and cranks his cannon of a leg. A few members of my team look away, unable to watch for fear of faint. Knowing the speed with which this man shoots, I know I have to commit before he even touches the ball. I hope history repeats itself, and I dive for the lower right corner.
The shot booms, and my outstretched fingers push it away, and I slide beyond the net, gasping in relief.
Kick number nine results in the first goal shot by one of the girls. In co-ed soccer, the quality of the girls on your team often means the difference, and we are about to see if that holds true again. But, they too have a very skilled girl on their team, and she comes up next. She steps up, winds up, and with a flick of the ankle, she pops the shot again toward the bottom right corner. This time, she placed it perfectly.
Fortunately, so did I.
I watch her intently as I see her wind up and bring her leg forward. Then I see the twitch of the ankle, and I know where it's going. I push off with all my strength and dive for the post. Still in mid-air, the palm of my hand connects with the ball and stops it in its tracks.
I love pressure. A giant team bear hug later, and we were off to celebrate our victory over wings and beer.
That's enough drama for me at the moment. The weekend after next comes my ice hockey tournament; I'll save the drama for then.