by David A. Simons
I watched Ribaldi's 4,200th career goal from the sidelines, from my little metal
It was a typical Ribaldi goal. No artistry, no foresight, no teamwork. He just ran
to an open space on the left flank and waved his hands in the air, calling for the
ball. "Hey! Look at me! I'm the superstar! Feed me!" Our midfielder, Jackson,
did like always: beat his man, then lobbed the ball Ribaldi's way. Ribaldi corralled
it with his chest, dribbled past the last defender, and launched one of his curling
drives on goal. The Saudi keeper should have stopped it, but of course he didn't
-- it grazed off his fingertips, into the net. Two-one, Australia.
And then Ribaldi did his little dance. His damn Brazilian samba. Shuffling his
feet, swinging his hips, twirling his finger in the air, while the stadium's resonators
blared his mongrel music, the buzz-cams circled his head and ninety thousand
taxpayers screamed their delight.
In my twenty-six years as Ribaldi's backup, I'd watched this routine hundreds --
no, thousands -- of times, all from my little metal folding chair. All the while
knowing how much Ribaldi hurt our team, that his undisciplined, selfish play was
the reason Australia never advanced past the third round of the Dues Cup. But I
would remain passive no longer.
This goal would be Ribaldi's last.
While Ribaldi and the other first-stringers finished their celebration, I activated a
hidden transponder in my shoe, setting off a buzzer in the pocket of one of the
Saudi defenders. The defender, Musahan, turned to me and grinned. Idiot! I
stared at my knees.
The game resumed. Ribaldi's goal had given Australia a late lead, but there were
still twelve minutes remaining, plenty of time for the Saudis. They pressed an
attack, searching for open space in Australia's zone. Ribaldi, of course, didn't help
defend -- he stayed in the offensive end, waiting for a counter. Musahan tracked
Jackson gained possession, dropped the ball back to our keeper, who cleared it up
field into the Saudi zone, into Ribaldi's open left flank. Ribaldi gave chase, eyes
wide, nostrils flared, charging full speed, his 4,201st goal in sight.
He never saw Musahan.
The defender reached the ball just after Ribaldi did and slid into his path, swinging
his thick right leg. Of course, Musahan was nominally aiming for the ball, but he
connected instead with his primary target: Ribaldi's shin. The crack could be
heard across the pitch.