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The undying spirit of the underdog

The 2018 FIFA World Cup was everything a football fan could ask for and more. At first, defending champions Germany crashed out in the group stages, then Argentina and Spain followed suit in the next round. Then we saw the controversial VAR technology and instant replays change the outcome of games on various occasions. But the biggest surprise of all was Croatia making it to the finals by defeating some of the strongest teams in the tournament. Even though they lost in the final game, they won the hearts of millions of football fans around the world.

The Croatians entered the tournament with the label of underdogs, but left with the title of heroes. Having become an independent country only in 1991, Croatia was a new name in the world cup scene. In the last four world cups, the country had gotten past the group stages only once, and that was two decades ago. So, when they played their first match in the 2018 world cup, no one had much hope for the Croatians. But, when they played their last game against France, over 68 percent of fans around the world were rooting for their victory.  Even when the Croatians lost, the world sang songs of their four-week joyride that culminated in a historic performance, filled with grit and resilience. That’s the beauty of underdogs—they never lose. They either win the game itself or they win hearts with their sheer determination and persistence.

An underdog like Croatia reminds me of Rocky Balboa from the Rocky films. A symbol of hope and faith, Rocky is the biggest underdog story ever told in the world of cinema. An amateur boxer, who is mostly invisible to the outside world, dreams of becoming a boxing champion one day. With no coach or money to support his training, Rocky only has his will and perseverance to help him reach his goal. And, when he finally gets a shot at the title, he gives it everything he has. Every time he is knocked down, he gets back up on his feet; every time his body threatens to give up, his mind convinces him to try one more time. That’s what all underdogs do—they keep at it.

The spirit of underdogs is everywhere, burning inside individuals who wish to leave their mark on the world.

There’s nothing like perseverance to win the support of the audience. Once an underdog comes into the limelight, the whole world cheers for them. Throwing light on this behaviour, psychologists say that people get more joy from unexpected successes than obvious ones, and similarly experience more pain from unexpected failures than those which are easy to anticipate. A study conducted by Bowling Green State University reveals that people like to support teams or sportsmen with a bad track record because they have a lot to gain from an unlikely victory.

Underdogs are not just characters in movies or teams in international tournaments. The spirit of underdogs is everywhere, burning inside individuals who wish to leave their mark on the world. I, for one, wanted to prove my worth in the college basketball team. After sitting on the bench for months, I finally got my chance to play, when two senior players left the game due to injury. When I was asked by the coach to play, I knew it was my moment to prove my worth. We were the underdogs that day, as the other team was one of the best in the state.

When the game began, I ran like the wind and covered every corner of the court. At offense and defense, I fought for every point like the world cup was on the line. That day, we lost the game and I was heartbroken. But when I saw the audience—students from my college and the rival college—applauding our efforts, I felt like a hero. I felt like we had won something more valuable than a title, people’s hearts.

The underdog in us motivates us to reach greater heights, and show people that we are no less than anyone. But reaching greater heights is not an overnight affair. It takes a strong resolve, backed by months of hard work and patience. And when we put in all that we have, no mountain is too high to scale.

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