That is, Nathania, who hails from the Nilgiris and is a footballer herself, became the first Indian girl to be an Official Match Ball Carrier (OMBC).
A class six student of Rishi Valley School in Chitoor, Andhra Pradesh, Nathania got the opportunity to travel to the FIFA World Cup after winning a contest organised by FIFA sponsor KIA. She was selected as OBMC along with a 10-year-old boy Rishi Tej, who hails from Karnataka.
“I am still in a daze. It is very unusual for an Indian to participate in the World Cup,” said Nathania to TOI before she left for Russia.
Still, the aspiring footballer is confident enough to know why she was selected.
“I play as a centre forward for my senior school team. So, I was at ease when they asked me (during the KIA contest) to show my dribbling, juggling and penalty shooting skills. I have seen that girls don’t play much football in India,” said Nathania.
The 11-year-old girl is thrilled, of course, but there is one thing that was disappointing for her. She’s a fanatic Lionel Messi supporter, but she’s not going to be a ball carrier in an Argentine game. Worse, Argentina – and Messi – have been having a horrendous run at this World Cup so far; the team was thrashed 3-0 by Croatia yesterday.
Still, Nathania is a fan of the ‘Barcelona’, the football club that Brazil’s Neymar was with until last August, so she would have been happy to meet him. And there’s another Barcelona sensation in the Brazil team – Philippe Coutinho – whom she got to meet.
“I was sad when Neymar left Barcelona. But now that I will get a chance to meet him, the pain has eased a bit. I am planning to take his autograph along with Barcelona’s latest sensation Coutinho and all others. Also, Messi will be travelling to Saint Petersburg for their last game. So I am not giving up hope on a chance meeting with him. If I do meet him, it will be an icing on the cake,” said Nathania before she left for Russia.
At the end of the day, more than anything else, what Nathania wants more young girls in India to play football. Her presence on the field today will have gone a long way in encouraging more Indian girls to look to football as a sport.