“With the World Cup just behind us…on a chilly and wet December evening…Kylian Mbappé and Neymar on the field for PSG…Lionel Messi absent, taking a well-earned post-World Cup rest…“ – so went the introductory words of the commentator at the kickoff of the match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and RC Strasbourg-Alsace at the Parc des Princes at the French capital on December 28 (Paris time) for the resumption of the French Ligue 1, barely two weeks after the greatest sports event of the year culminated at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar. The World Cup saw these three PSG clubmates, among the most expensive footballers in the world, battle it out against each other for their countries.
To the sporting world, everyone remembers how an Mbappé-led France failed to defend its title against a Messi-inspired Argentina. Similarly, a day after the French loss, Philippine collegiate fans of basketball were witness to the dethroning of the University of the Philippines Men’s Basketball Team, more popularly known as the UP Maroons, by the Ateneo Blue Eagles who came from behind in the Finals series of Season 85 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) when they dropped the first game, but won the last two.
The French and UP losses bore striking similarities.
For one, both teams trailed in most or all throughout their respective matches, persevered to bring the scores even and close, only to fall short at the very end. Argentina led at the half with a comfortable 2-0 edge, while UP trailed by fifteen at half time in the deciding game three. Both teams rallied in the second half, France bringing the score to 2-all at the end of regulation time, and 3-all after injury time that brought the match to be decided on a penalty shootout. While UP outscored Ateneo in the second half 36 to 28, the closest it could manage to get is within three points, thanks to the heroics of Harold Alarcon.
In winning the 2022 edition of the World Cup, Argentina regained football glory 36 years after Maradona and his teammates hoisted the golden globe trophy themselves in 1986. Last May, the UP Maroons regained the UAAP Men’s Basketball championship 36 years after the Paras-Magsanoc-led team captured the crown in 1986.
Mbappé single-handedly carried France to the fateful penalty shootout by achieving a rare world cup hat-trick. In similar terms, UP’s Alarcon made 5 points in a span of 4 seconds when he intentionally missed the last of three free throws, but recovered the ball to shoot a 3-pointer immediately after.
Mbappé was awarded the Golden Boot for making the most goals with 8 during the entire tournament (9 including the goal he made during the penalty shootout), but this was only a consolation to the Golden Ball award accorded to Messi for having been the most impactful player of the World Cup. Zavier Lucero who was awarded the Player of the Game in UP’s game one win, but who got injured in game two, was allowed to take the technical free throw after Ateneo pre-maturely celebrated their win with 0.7 seconds still remaining. Lucero who did not check in beforehand, courageously undressed his warm-up shirt, walked the entire length of the court, dribbled the ball a couple of times behind the 15-foot line and slowly sank the technical free throw. But the applause his made shot drew from both camps was only a consolation to the Finals Most Valuable Player award to Ateneo’s Ange Kouame.
If there is anything to learn from these French and UP losses, these are the virtues of perseverance and decisiveness.
Perseverance is when one never gives up, even when the going gets rough at the start. It is when Ateneo did not give up even after losing the first game in the Finals series. They tried again and successfully won the next two. It is when UP sophomore and already two-time Mythical Five member Carl Tamayo insisted to play the season despite a nagging leg injury. It is when Mbappé and his PSG team did not allow a 1-1 draw score card, and persevered through the end of injury time to draw a foul inside the box and eventually convert the accorded penalty kick. PSG then earned the full three points and remained on top of the league scoreboard.
Decisiveness is when Alarcon decided to miss his third free throw, but made sure he recovered the ball himself so he could run beyond the arc and hoist a 3-pointer that would put UP precariously close to within three points, with 20 seconds still remaining in the game. It is when Mbappé decided to guide and make all his three penalty kicks to the right of the goalkeeper. But it is also when Emiliano Martínez, the Argentinian goalkeeper decided to dive to his right to block the shot of France’s Kingsley Coman to make that crucial save. Penalty kicks are psychologically cruel to both kicker and goalie as they are practically all about making a decision even before the shot is made: the kicker must already make up his mind where to put the ball, and the goalie must anticipate the made-up mind of the kicker. A wrong reading by the goalie of the kicker’s mind usually leads to a goal, precisely what happened to French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who incorrectly decided to dive to his left allowing Gonzalo Montiel to seal the World Cup victory.
Perseverance and decisiveness are virtues worthy of embracing as the new year is ushered in. Happy New Year, everyone!
Obrigado, Pelé, king of this beautiful game. Rest in Peace. – Rappler.com
Mario A. Aurelio, PhD is a UP Diliman professor who earned his post graduate education in Paris, France. In his free time, he dabbles in sports – played varsity football in high school and an avid UP Maroons supporter – and makes music with his band – The Unconformity Band.