New Delhi: Every four years when the FIFA World Cup surfaces with great aplomb, thousands of Indians, like the rest of the world, are glued to their TV sets and are busy absorbing one of the biggest global sporting events. The majority of the Indian fans are generally rooting for either Brazil or Argentina with the likes of Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Diego Maradona among the favourites apart from Neymar and Lionel Messi in today’s day and age.
Whilst there are many dreams about watching India play at the World Cup itself, there is one Indian footballer, an 11-year-old girl called Nathania John K who will rub shoulders with the Brazilian team led by Neymar.
A footballer herself, Nathania is an ardent Lionel Messi fan, is understandably elated and overjoyed at being afforded the chance of becoming the first Indian girl to be the ‘Official Match ball carrier’ in Russia. She will have her moment in the spotlight when Brazil captained by Neymar play Costa Rica on June 22nd in their second group E match in St Petersburg. Along with Nathania, 10-year-old Rishi Tej will also be making the journey to Russia and will be the official match carrier in Belgium’s match against World Cup debutants Panama.
“This has been an unforgettable week for me and my family. We did not expect that I will get the chance to go to the World Cup. Everything has happened very fast and this week has gone by like by a blur. I still can’t believe this is true,” Nathania told News18Sports in the national capital.
“I will be rooting for Argentina at the World Cup and though I am a little sad that I won’t be at their match, I am looking forward to meeting the Barcelona players of whom I will miss meeting Dani Alves,” Nathania said making her allegiances crystal clear.
A student at Rishi Valley school, Nathania’s day is consumed mostly by football. Her mother, Annie John says that most of her daughter’s day is spent doing things related to football like playing, watching and even collecting pictures of her favourite footballers.
“She has 17 scrapbooks and we regularly send her pictures from newspapers and magazines to her school so she can keep adding them to her collection. She is always up to date with football news and rarely misses watching a match,” said a very proud mother.
“Whenever she comes home from school for vacations, she spends most of her day playing football. That is her favourite activity,” said Annie.
The mother-daughter duo stumbled upon this opportunity by chance when a promotional message was forwarded to them by a close friend. At home for summer vacations, Nathania’s parents backed her love for the sport and let her try out her skills in a more organised environment at a football coaching school in Coimbatore.
11-yr-old Nathania John kandathil will b t first #Indian girl in history to b t Official Match Ball Carrier at the @FIFAWorldCup 2018 in #Russia for the #Brazil vs #CostaRica match on June 22. @FIFAcom #Russia2018 @timesofindia @IndianFootball #OMBC @TOISportsNews @TOICitiesNews pic.twitter.com/gWAvMBGeZf— Petlee Peter (@petleepeter) June 11, 2018
“The coaches at the trial really liked her performance. She was even playing with the boys and the coaches told us that she is supremely skilled for her age,” her mother said, further adding that was the catalyst behind eventually registering for the Official Match Ball Carrier competition held by KIA.
“Nathania wants go abroad, learn to play better football. Her dream is to play for the Barcelona women’s team,” said the mother.
“It was the final day for applying to the competition and we uploaded a 30-second video of Nathania. We just decided to take a chance seeing how passionate she is.”
Annie, a teacher by profession, is not only ready to back her daughter’s dreams of continuing with the sport but also hopes this breaks a glass ceiling in terms of women’s sport. Her daughter was the only girl selected for the final round from more than a 1000 entries in the competition which saw trials and a ceremony with Indian captain Sunil Chhetri present to pick and announce the winners.
“I was disappointed to see that I am the only girl and had hoped there would be other girls in the competition too,” said Nathania.
Whilst Nathania has to wait to fulfill her dreams of playing professionally, she does hope to be able to interact with her favourite Barcelona players like Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho in the Brazilian squad.
Amidst all the joy and euphoria around her trip to the World Cup, Nathania though isn’t very happy with the Brazilian captain Neymar whom she will lead out in a week’s time.
“I am very disappointed and upset with Neymar because he left Barcelona. There are many of us who look up to him and it was very upsetting to see him leave.”
“It isn’t a joke to leave like that and disappoint so many people,” she said angrily.