There are 88,966 people in the world who can claim to have seen live what many are saying is the greatest World Cup game ever played: Argentina vs. France, which ended 3-3 in regulation time and saw Argentina triumph in a shootout.
Two of those in attendance were longtime friends and Endicott alumni Shahab Afsharian ’06 and Juan Ibarra ’05, who traveled halfway around the world to experience a World Cup final together. This trip was the first time the two friends had met since graduation from Endicott.
Afsharian, who grew up in Mexico and currently lives in Beverly, Mass., and Ibarra, who is from Argentina and now lives in Panama, met at the Endicott campus in Mexico City, where they attended classes for two years before moving to Beverly as international students. It was a life-changing experience for both alumni.
“Some of the happiest moments of mine are from those two years I spent at Endicott in Beverly,” said Ibarra. “I had a chance to live in the States with roommates—it was my first time leaving my home and taking care of myself. I was surrounded by amazing people in an incredible environment.”
“I’m here where I am now because of Endicott,” agreed Afsharian, a venture capitalist. “The people whom I met from the U.S., Spain, and pretty much all over the world—we still talk.”
These connections are important in private equity, where the ability to bring people together to realize big ideas is key. Afsharian is currently raising 1.5B in capital for a fund to buy equity stakes in professional sports franchises, as well as working with a group seeking more efficient ways to import gasoline and diesel into Mexico, and serving as a managing partner for a fund that supports startups. He also co-owns New England Flag Football, working to expand the league and create opportunities nationally and internationally for young players.
So, when Ibarra told Afsharian he was planning to go to the World Cup in Qatar last year, Afsharian knew it would be the chance of a lifetime and made plans to meet him.
For Ibarra, this trip to the World Cup was the culmination of his lifelong support of Argentina’s soccer team and a dream opportunity. After attending matches at both the Brazilian World Cup in 2014 and in Russia in 2018, he vowed to do all he could to see every game Argentina would play in 2022.
“I remember watching the match in Russia against France,” said Ibarra, who is now Director of Corporate Strategy for World Target Group, a collection of several companies he started that includes a consumer electronics distributor, a hotel amenities manufacturer, a construction company, and more. “I called my wife and told her I’m not going to miss one match of [player Lionel] Messi’s possible last World Cup. I wanted to give 100% from my side. So, I made that decision that day [to attend in 2022].”
In the end, Ibarra ended up attending 22 matches in total, staying in Qatar for a month.
Afsharian was joined by his family for the first several days of his trip before they flew home so his kids could return to school. After that, the two friends were able to spend some time together to take in the celebratory atmosphere and experience the final game.
Both men agree that the energy of that final match between Argentina and France was unparalleled.
“Before the match even started, I was crying,” Ibarra shared. “I had all these mixed feelings going through my mind, it was so emotional. I cheered the whole time—I couldn’t even talk after the game.”
For Afsharian, it was a bit difficult to cheer for Argentina, especially after they’d bested his Mexican team not only in this year’s competition but in the past three World Cup meetings as well. However, he said, the energy and quality of the team won him over.
“I think there’s no way you cannot like Argentina as a team,” he shared. “And having Messi there—it’s just magical. You’re witnessing some kind of history. It’s not going to happen again.”
For these alumni, sports are not only a passion but a pastime that allows them to travel and pursue experiences they might not otherwise have. For Ibarra, his time in Qatar also meant getting the chance to meet new people—he spent half of one game chatting with soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo.
“These types of things are going to happen only once in a lifetime,” he said. “It was everything I hoped for and even more.”
Ready to reunite with your fellow Gulls? Join us for Reunion Weekend, June 2–4, 2023!