Football is a simple sport. If a team doesn’t take their chances, then they’re bound to lose. Luck plays a role in that logic, and at times, teams can be simply deemed unlucky in games they had drawn or lost. But if the same thing occurs more than once, then there’s bound to be a bigger problem and harsh lessons to learn.
Such were the lessons for the National University Bulldogs in their defeats to the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers and the Ateneo Blue Eagles in their UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament fixtures. Both games displayed the Bulldogs’ capability to start strong and finish with a whimper.
The Bulldogs were so dominant in the first twenty minutes of their match against the Growling Tigers that it was an (unfunny) joke that they weren’t able to score a goal in those moments. The Growling Tigers returned rejuvenated in the second half, and a Ronald Batisla-Ong goal from a set-piece gave the Bulldogs a huge psychological mountain to climb, one they failed to overcome. The Bulldogs eventually lost 1-3 and were simply left to despair after the match.
It proved to be a similar story for NU when they played Ateneo. NU captain Paolo Salenga gave the lead to NU ten minutes into the match, but Ateneo’s Julian Roxas equalized at the 29th minute. Same as the game against the Growling Tigers, the Bulldogs capitulated in the second half against the Blue Eagles, for whom goals from Xavier Alcuaz and Javier Ocampo Gayoso secured the three points.
If the UST loss was a matter of an off day, then the same cannot be said for the Ateneo game. It was as if a virus had escalated into a full blown disease. The lack of a killer instinct and luck were seen as problems in the first game, but the second displayed something worse – poor attitude and a lack of heart.
“Maganda na sana yung performance nila against FEU but then nagkaroon lang talaga ng breaks against UST. This game against Ateneo is really different. That’s why even us we’re wondering why. Everything was well planned. Inayos ang lahat. I think the bottomline is the heart and the attitude of the players,” lamented NU coach Laranas.
Laranas was just disappointed after the Bulldogs’ loss to Ateneo. He had shrugged off the UST result as a bad day in the office. This time, though, he didn’t mince his words. “I train them during our training but in the end they were the ones deciding doon sa pitch. Kaya lang pag labanan kasi puso, there’s no amount of coaching pag ayaw talaga mag deliver eh. Kahit na tinuruan mo na, pinopolish na lang, tapos strategize na siya going towards the game… Ang bottom line kasi talo sa puso eh.” He added that no adjustments had been made during halftime and that his players had turned out differently in an actual game compared to a training session.
In addition to that, Laranas couldn’t understand why his players had faltered easily in their last two fixtures after they conceded a goal. The Bulldogs had played the Far Eastern University Tamaraws before their two defeats and managed to nick a point after they were 1-2 down and a man less. He was despondent that his Bulldogs had gone down to the Blue Eagles despite the fact it had been 1-1 at halftime. “Actually even sa training sinisimulate namin yun. Pag down 1-0 ka sinisimulate naming madalas yan. What will you do during those situations? Lamang yung kalaban ng 1-0, you still have twenty minutes to equalize. Sinisimulate namin pero ganun din eh. It’s a matter of attitude pa rin”, he rued.
However, Laranas dismissed NU’s early victories over University of the East and Adamson University as cause for overconfidence from his players. He felt that the unpredictability of Season 78 and the narrow point difference between teams will be good for his Bulldogs. “We’re still safe kumbaga. All we have to do is change the attitude. The attitude that they showed during the FEU game, ganun din dapat. Nawala kasi yun.”
NU’s last two games for the first round will be against the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons and De La Salle Green Archers. Laranas stated that he will tell his boys to focus on one game at a time and vowed, “We will prepare against UP and La Salle. We will prepare.”
There are still nine games to go before the Final Four this Season 78, and NU still have a young football program. While the program itself has grown exponentially since its inception in 2012, some setbacks like these are expected. Once the Bulldogs recover and improve, though, expect Laranas and the rest of the team to look back on these losses as a step in the right direction.