Chapter 567: Champions League Quarter-Final Match Day

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Time: 8:00 PM

Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy.

Only forty-five minutes were remaining before the kick-off of the long-awaited UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg battle between Juventus and Real Madrid. The excitement was in the air, and over forty thousand football supporters had already entered the Juventus stadium.

At the moment, most fans were already singing and cheering while watching the players of both teams warming up on the pitch. Of course, there were also those few who had already taken their seats in the stands and were only discussing the upcoming game.

Paolo Favero, a staunch Juventus fan, looked at the pitch. He observed the Real Madrid players warming up before saying, "As expected, a few key players are missing from the Real Madrid squad. I don't see Luka Modric, Ángel Di María, and Karim Benzema. This is good for us."

"Yeah," Simone Rocchi, his friend sporting a black and white striped Juventus jersey, said. "From the news reports, they are all out injured. There were also reports that Gareth Bale was unfit before the game. Unfortunately, it seems he has already overcome his fitness issues. Aside from Cristiano Ronaldo, he'll be another dangerous attacking threat within Real Madrid's squad today."

Paolo Favero nodded and continued looking at the pitch. His eyes naturally took in the visages of all the famous Real Madrid superstars, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco, Iker Casillas, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and James Rodríguez. At that moment, they were among the ranks of their teammates, going through their pre-game warm-up under the supervision of Carlo Ancelotti, their head coach.

"This is the biggest test for us in the Champions League this season so far," Paolo Favero eventually said. "Let's hope we come out on top."

"Have some confidence, my friend," Simone Rocchi reacted. "We have the best-performing squad in Europe this season. We haven't lost even a single game in all competitions. So, what's there to fear? As long as the players perform as usual, we'll win."

"I guess that makes sense." Paolo Favero smiled and turned towards Juventus' side of the pitch. His eyes naturally landed first on Zachary Bemba, Juventus' man of the moment. At that juncture, the twenty-year-old phenomenon was among the ranks of the other Juventus players. He was going through his warm-up under the supervision of Max Allegri, Juventus' head coach.

Paolo Favero could see that Zachary looked confident and energetic. The young-play maker went through the rapid jumping squat and heeltap step drills almost without breaking a sweat. For sure, he was a player who was ready to perform at this crucial juncture of the Champions League.

"Zachary looks sharp," Simone Rocchi commented after following his gaze. "I hope the pressure of facing legends like Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time doesn't affect him. We need him at the top of his game to defeat Real Madrid."

"Yeah," Paolo said. "Let's hope he will play as usual."

In the meantime, the Juventus players were in the final stages of their pre-game dynamic warm-up on their side of the field. They went through a few more stretches to loosen their muscles before getting the nod to conclude the session from Coach Max Allegri.

The players went to do their own warm-up routines after that. Buffon, of course, went with the goal-keeping coach for his other warm-up while the rest spread out on the pitch to perform various exercises.

Zachary, on his part, grouped up with Andre Pirlo, Patrice Evra, Carlos Tevez, Claudio Marchisio, and Arturo Vidal to have a feel of the ball by playing some light passes. They started playing something akin to a rondo but without a player in the middle.

"Your former teammate is quite a menace on the pitch," Claudio Marchisio suddenly said as they were halfway through the drill. He was, of course, referring to Cristiano Ronaldo and talking to Patrice Evra and Carlos Tevez. They were the two players on the scene that had played with the Portuguese ace at Manchester United.

"Yes, CR7 is something else on the pitch," Patrice Evra agreed. "He's one guy who will give you hell when you're his opponent. Lichtsteiner will have to remain on his toes in the right back position to prevent him from doing damage."

After hearing Evra's words, Zachary subconsciously peeked towards the other side of the pitch where the Real Madrid players were undergoing warm-ups. His eyes quickly picked out the all-familiar visage of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was seriously performing hip rotation drills under the supervision of one of the Real Madrid assistant coaches.

"What could his stats be like?" Such a thought flashed through Zachary's mind. He subconsciously held on to the ball a little longer and used the GOAT System's snooping tool to scan the Portuguese ace.

Footballer: Cristiano Ronaldo

Physical Fitness: SS

Soccer Technique: SS

Game Intelligence: SSS

Mental Ability and Mindset: SSS

X-Factor: SSS

Zachary gasped in shock after seeing CR7's stats on the system interface. The Portuguese ace had roughly the same physical fitness and soccer technique stats as his. They were all at the SS-grading, meaning that their various aspects, like Agility, Stamina, Endurance, Ball Control, Dribbling, Body Control, and Passing, were almost at the same level.

However, CR7 still possessed several advantages over Zachary. He had SSS-graded game intelligence, implying that his spatial awareness, tactical knowledge, and risk assessment attributes on the pitch were a grade higher than Zachary's. He also possessed SSS-graded Mental ability and X-factor, meaning his composure and luck aspects were much better than those of Zachary's.

It was important to note that a single difference in stats could mean a big difference in abilities, especially at the top level of professional football. For instance, CR7's SSS-graded game intelligence might seem like a difference of just one grade from Zachary's SS-ability. However, this contrast was, in essence, an enormous chasm that most players couldn't easily bridge while on the pitch.

That was because the higher your stats were, the harder it was to improve them. Even more so, the higher the attributes, the higher the difference in abilities between two individuals of two close grades.

With SSS-graded game intelligence, Ronaldo had all the tools to perform at his best and outshine the SS-graded players of the same attribute during every game. He could instantly make the best decisions on the pitch and utilize his already-high physical fitness and techniques to crash opponents. His high-risk assessment and tactical knowledge could also allow him to assess the game situation quickly, even during critical moments. After that, he would easily use his other abnormal attributes to exploit the gaps and do damage before the opponent could react. This was an advantage possessed by all players with abnormally-high game intelligence.

Andrea Pirlo, Zachary's teammate, also had SSS-graded game intelligence. But the Italian Maestro was still not in the realms of the abnormal players as his physical stats, like agility and Stamina, were only around the S-grading. They were even a grade lower than Zachary's.

Ronaldo, on the other, possessed SS-graded physical fitness attributes along with his overly-high game intelligence, mental strength, and x-factor attributes. This was the difference between a once-in-a-generational talent and an exceptional player like Pirlo.

"Zachary, what's wrong?" Patrice Evra shouted to break Zachary out of his trance. "Is the pressure of facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid getting to you? Hurry up and pass the ball."

Zachary chuckled and returned his attention to his teammates. He continued exchanging quick touches with them until he felt like his mind had achieved its usual tranquility before games. He had even pushed all the concerns regarding CR7's stats to the back of his mind, and the only thing on his mind was how best to ready himself for the game.

It was at that juncture that Coach Max Allegri glanced at his watch. "Warm-up time is over," he announced. "Quickly return to the dressing room for the final match preparations."

"Yes, coach!" Most players, including Zachary, responded and made a beeline for the tunnel.

At that point, the noise in the stadium had reached thunderous levels. Zachary could hear the familiar booming cheers of the more than twenty thousand Juventus supporters in attendance. They sang some of the Old Lady's popular chants and, at times, shouted some of the players' names as they watched them returning to the dressing room. Zachary could even vividly hear a group in the stands above the tunnel entrance chanting his name excitedly.

Zachary waved to the fans shouting his name as he immersed himself in the explosive atmosphere before the UEFA Champions League quarter-final. At the same time, he started registering the voices of the opposing supporters, who were singing the names of the Real Madrid players.

"Cristianoooo... Ronaldoooo..."

"Iker... Casillas..."



It was as if the traveling Real Madrid supporters were competing with Juventus' home fans on who could make more noise. They went all out to shout the names of the Real Madrid players, thus turning the atmosphere within the Juventus stadium more explosive and chaotic.

Zachary observed all the excitement and chaos as he headed toward the dressing room for the final game preparations. And right then, something finally registered in his mind.

He had finally progressed to a level where he could face a team like Real Madrid. He was at a career stage where he could finally play against once-in-a-generation talents like CR7 during a crucial UEFA Champions League quarter-final. It was his dream. But now that he had finally made it, he was at the same time excited and nervous.

"Do you feel the pressure? Are you a bit nervous?" A familiar voice asked from beside him as he was about to reach the tunnel entrance.

Zachary turned to the side and noticed that it was indeed Coach Allegri who had spoken. The coach had arrived beside him when he was still deep in his thoughts.

Zachary chose to be honest with the coach. "This is my first time playing at this stage," he replied in Italian. "I'm really feeling the pressure. I'm also a little bit nervous."

Coach Allegri smiled and said, "A little bit of pressure before the game will do you good. Hold on to that feeling and let it be the driving force that allows you to perform at your best during the game. But at the same time, don't let it overwhelm you. I'm looking forward to your performance tonight."

"Thanks, coach," Zachary replied. "I'll try my best. No, I'll do my best."

"Good." Coach Allegri nodded and patted Zachary's shoulder. He then quickened his pace and walked into the tunnel entrance.

Zachary slowed down and cast a last glance at the boisterous atmosphere within the stands of the Juventus stadium. He then followed after his teammates and coaches and stepped into the tunnel.

Yes, he was still a bit nervous. But he was also looking forward to finally playing Real Madrid. He yearned to prove himself as a great player. He wished to put up a memorable performance against one of the greatest teams in the world that night.

Chapter 567: Champions League Quarter-Final Match Day
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