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Carson trudged off the field, the taste of salt in his mouth from the beads of sweat dripping down his face. With the weight of his country on his shoulders, Carson Reynolds had disappointed a nation. With a look of shame on his face, he bit his lip in an effort to keep himself from crying.
England and Spain were in the World Cup final and ended regulation and overtime with a score of three to three. Reynolds was picked to take the decisive fifth penalty kick for England. Spain had converted all five of their penalties and England had hit the back of the net on their first four attempts.
Reynolds strutted confidently up toward the penalty spot and took the ball from the referee. He placed it on the penalty spot and took three steps back. Iker Casillas the Spanish goalkeeper, waved his arms emphatically in an effort to distract Reynolds. Reynolds took five quick little steps, planted, and fired the ball towards the goal. The ball rocketed way up and over the goal. The Spanish players, coaches, and fans went ballistic, cheering with jubilee as their nation had won the greatest sporting event on the planet.
The English fans were furious with Reynolds and the next day death threats from fans overflowed his mail and the media painted him as and a villain. Englishmen and women of all ages hated Carson Reynolds.
Three weeks later with the shadow of the missed penalty still looming large over Reynolds, preseason training for his club team, Hartstone F.C., began. As he walked into the training facilities, fans yelled obscenities at him and English teammates glared at him and avoided him. When he arrived at the locker room, he found his locker and slumped in the chair and sighed.
He took out his boots from his bag and squeezed them onto his feel and pulled his training shirt over his head. He trotted out to the training pitch and began the session. His passes missed their targets, when he had the ball he was constantly being dispossessed and when he took a shot it went woefully wide of the goal. His psyche had been wounded severely and it was obvious. The world class player had transformed into a below average player in a span of three weeks.
Reynolds’ performance remained poor for the next week and a half. Finally, Hartstone F.C. manager, Harry Crall decided him and Reynolds needed to sit down and have a chat.
“The only way that you will ever make the fans forget that miss is to go out on the pitch, whether it is with England or with us, and play your bloody socks off,” said Crall “You will not get a chance to redeem yourself if you continue to pout around feeling sorry for yourself. Remember when you first came up from the academy and trained with the first team? You were relaxed and when you made a mistake you just kept playing and you played great! You played for fun and that‘s what made you a superstar. Don’t worry about the media and the fans.”
The next training session, Reynolds tried to have fun and he did for a little bit but he made one mistake and he got down on himself. He knew he couldn’t let that bother him, but it did and his play suffered because of it.
For the next two weeks, Reynolds had fun in training and steadily worked himself back into world class form. When Reynolds was announced to the fans in the starting line-up, he was greeted with a chorus of boos. He knew that there was only one way to turn those boos into cheers, score. Reynolds did manage to score but Hartstone F.C. still succumbed to Everton 3-2. In the next ten games Reynolds scored four goals and had three assists.
The England National Team coach, Fabio Capello, called up Reynolds to play in a World Cup Qualifier against Ireland much to the dismay of the fans. Reynolds wasn’t named to the starting eleven but with the score deadlocked at two in the 67th minute, Capello called upon Reynolds to go into the game for Jermain Defoe. Reynolds was not greeted with happy chants to say the least.
Reynolds didn’t get a touch on the ball until the 71st minutes when he and Frank Lampord linked up for a wall pass along the right flank. The next eight minutes or so went smoothly for Reynolds as he did nothing fancy, just kept possession for England. Then, in the 82nd minute, Steven Gerrard of England won the ball in central midfield and played a long diagonal ball over the Irish left defender and hit Reynolds right in stride.
Reynolds settled the ball as if he were catching a diamond with a velvet pillow, softly touching it down at his feet. He took one touch and slotted the ball to Wayne Rooney who had made a darting run from the midfield. Rooney didn’t have to think twice about having a go. Rooney rocketed the ball first time and it whizzed past a helpless Irish goalkeeper.
English fans erupted into a frenzy, Reynolds hadn’t scored the goal but he had played a critical role in setting up the goal. The fans finally cut Reynolds some slack, but he still hadn’t done enough to fully gain back their adoration.
Reynolds returned to Hartstone with a renewed confidence and swagger about him that was very evident. The Sunday following the England match, Hartstone F.C. played against Liverpool. Hartstone trailed at the half by a score of 3-1, Reynolds scoring in the 40th minute to pull Hartstone within two. Liverpool had goals from Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun, and Martin Skrtel.
In the end the Liverpool squad proved superior on the day as the score ended up 3-1. Hartstone dropped three of their next five fixtures but remained in fourth place.
Capello picked Reynolds to the eighteen man roster for England’s final World Cup Qualifier against Germany. If they won, they solidified their spot in the World Cup but if they fell at the hands of the Germans, their World Cup dreams were shattered.
The first half was a bruising one between two nations known for their physical play. Germany’s Captain and central midfielder Michael Ballack set the tone early when he leveled England’s Captain John Terry while going in for a challenge.
Just at the stroke of halftime England’s Glen Johnson looped a ball over the top intended for Reynolds but it was too long and easily collected by Per Mertesacker of Germany. Mertesacker settled the ball comfortably and then found Ballack open in the middle of the field and played it to him. Ballack received the ball and turned in one motion then sent a through ball on the grass to the left winger Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schweinsteiger touched the ball toward goal and curled it in toward the back post. The shot rang in off the upright and gave the German’s a one goal advantage at halftime.
Both Capello and the German skipper, Joachim Low, kept their starting eleven on for the start of the second half. For the first twenty minutes or so, Germany attained much of the possession and seemed on their way to a victory. In the 70th minute, Capello brought on Gabriel Agbonlahor in place of Rooney who was having an off night.
Agbonlahor and Reynolds were now paired up top and immediately the two clicked and were running rings about the opposition. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Reynolds passed it across the box to Agbonlahor who found the back of the net to tie the game.
Then in stoppage time, Frank Lampard galloped down the middle and into the eighteen yard box where he was taken down by Mertesacker. The referee whistled and pointed to the penalty spot. Capello decided that Reynolds was going to step up and take the penalty.
Images of the penalty against Spain were racing through Reynolds’ head. He tried to get them to go away but they wouldn’t. He placed the ball on the spot and was now ready. The referee blew his whistle signaling that the shot could be taken. Reynolds took two steps and blasted the ball into the top corner and sent England to the World Cup.