Indian girls dream big as U-17 Soccer World Cup arrives in the country

By Mikaela Viqueira

New Delhi, Sep 29 (EFE).- As India gets ready to host the Under-17 Women’s Soccer World Cup in October, the event has energized young girls who hope to represent the country in future.

India’s participation in the world cup as the host marks the first time the team is playing in the competition, and has brought more women to the playing field, apart from giving better visibility to a sport that has sought to charm a cricket-crazy nations in recent years.

“There is lack of knowledge among people that there is regular women’s football in the country, (…) that there are state leagues,” sports journalist Abreshmina Quadri told EFE.

“Hosting a tournament as big as a world dup (…) creates some sort of awareness and people get to know more about the players who would at least be representing the country,” she added.

Even though there is a national women’s league and at the world level, women have got their own ballon d’or since 2018, the world cup could become the biggest channel to popularize the women’s game in India like never before, with several new clubs scouting for talent in recent months.

Clubs such as Sudeva Delhi FC have tried to use the event’s attraction to establish a training academy for young girls eager to give their everything for the dream of playing for India one day.

The U-17 World Cup “is really helping getting more girls who are younger into the game, as they all want to try and give trials for the national team” and become more serious in their training, Sudeva coach Disha Malhotra told EFE.

The 24 trainees for the team play at a sports facility in the northern part of the Indian capital, living together in a hostel round-the-clock, which has helped communication and bonding both inside and outside the field.

“We are playing together, and now we are increasing our power” to be able to win the league, club captain Sanya Rawat told EFE.

Women’s soccer in India has seen a major transformation from a decade ago – when Malhotra was an active player – as the sport earlier suffered from the lack of opportunities and awareness, with even women referees being a rarity.

While Malhotra had to force her friends to play with her during their free time, Rawat has had it much easier: she was selected for her school team, and was helped in honing her skills by a coach as she progressed through the ranks.

“When I look back and see, the number of girls playing football has increased many times. When I went to school, my school did not even have a women’s team,” said Malhotra.

In contrast, young players today like Sudeva vice-captain Harita, have been following the sports closely, even learning from their favorite global stars through videos available online.

Harita,16, dreams big despite not being able to make the 21-member Indian team for the world cup, and hopes to play for world-famous clubs like FC Barcelona some day.

Malhotra recalled the “enthusiasm and energy” that young Indian girls showed during the national selection trials for the world cup earlier this year.

“I want to represent my country. I would love it if I get to play for India. This is everything I want, I want that logo of India on my jersey,” Rawat proclaimed with passion. EFE


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