The National University’s football program has enjoyed a rapid rise in the UAAP. NU set up a team in Season 75 when it finished second from bottom. Just three years later, the Bulldogs are seen as a contender for a Final Four slot.
Last February 21, 2016 (Sunday), though, was a wake-up call for the Bulldogs in their UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament campaign. The Bulldogs dominated the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers but failed to score the goal that would have broken their opponents’ spirits. Their wastefulness led to a surprise 1-3 loss.
“Siguro hindi namin ginusto manalo. Hindi kami nag double effort”, rued Bulldogs’ star forward Paolo Salenga.
Salenga felt that the Bulldogs had lacked the sense of urgency needed to win the match as early as their warm up. He added, “Hindi namin ginawa yung dapat gawin namin sa field. Hindi kami nagtulungan. Nagkulang kami. Atsaka yung mga opportunities namin, hindi namin ginrab. Kung na-grab namin siguro yun, iba na takbo ng game.”
Before the loss to UST, NU were undefeated, having beaten Adamson and UE, and drawn against current champions FEU despite having only ten men on the pitch. Salenga believed that complacency crept in before kickoff against UST. “Siguro kasi wala pa kaming talo. Sinabi ko rin sa kanila na wag mag kumpyansa kasi yung first two games namin Adamson at UE. Automatic na tatalunin na ng ibang team yun eh. Parang kami lang yung binigyan ng chance para unang kumalaban sa kanila.”
One issue brought out by the result was a potential problem with the mentality of the Bulldogs. Salenga agreed and said, “Feeling ko oo kasi nung na-scoran kami parang nawala na kami ng gana maglaro. Parang na down na kami agad. Yun yung dapat namin i-improve na professionalism na 1-0 pa lang, dapat ma lalo pa namin dagdagan yung effort namin na dapat gusto naming manalo.”
Aside from the mental aspect, there were multiple facets to NU’s game which Salenga said could be improved. “Siguro score kami ng early goals para ma-maintain namin yung takbo ng game, composure sa game and tiwala sa teammates.”
Last season’s failure to reach the Final Four still stuck out as a sore thumb to Salenga. He said, “Every game dapat may makuha kaming puntos kasi last season nagkulang lang kami ng one point para makapasok sa Final Four so dapat every game may makuha kaming points.”
Some observers believe that a slot in the Final Four is the minimum that NU should target. Salenga, though, believed otherwise. “Sa ngayon, championship talaga. Hindi lang Final Four. Championship na talaga gusto namin.”
Quite an ominous statement from one of today’s players in UAAP Football who can win a match on his own.