Friday, June 29, 2018

Shaking hands with Neymar was the moment to cherish: Nathania

Nathania John K, who made the entire country proud by becoming the first girl Official Match Ball Carrier (OMBC) from India at the FIFA World Cup, talks about her experience in Russia, sharing the tunnel with players, and more...

It was a proud moment for India when Nathania, the 11-year-old aspiring footballer Chennai, walked down the pitch carrying the ball for the 24th match of the FIFA World Cup 2018, where Brazil and Costa Rica faced each other at Saint Petersburg, Russia. “This was something that I never even dreamt of being a part of… it was awesome… just wonderful. I mean, there are no words to describe it. It’s a dream come true for me to just be standing there, holding the ball. I was trembling… the number of people present there was like wow! And I was representing my country in the midst of them all. I was very nervous, the ball was made of a different material and it was slippery. I thought I would drop it, but I didn’t. We had two rehearsals, but still, it was just the fear,” shares Nathania.

“Actually, we weren’t allowed to talk to the players. Since there were too many children, they feared there will be a ruckus if everyone talks to them. And the players had to focus on the game, too.

But I was lucky. As soon as the players came into the tunnel, I called each one of them and shook hands with both the teams, almost all the players — I shook hands with Thiago Silva, Neymar, Marcelo Vieira, Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho, Keylor Navas. That was the moment to cherish,” she says, about sharing the tunnel with the players.

Talking about the atmosphere in the stadium, she says, “It is something so rare; especially the Brazilians, they were in a great mood; they were dancing and singing. It was a wonderful atmosphere. It feels really special to have been a part of it.”

Nathania says it was a memorable tour for her as she also got to explore Russia a bit. “On June 23, we were taken for a short tour by our chaperone and driver. We went to Peterhof Palace, it was a park of fountains and waterbodies. I played football in the garden there. We also went to Grand Market Rossiya museum, which had the whole of Russia in a 3D visual and it was amazing. There was also another temporary football museum, because it was the World Cup season. They had a small pitch to play and there was also a football in a glass case — it was the one Pele and Maradona had signed on. I also had to give a few interviews for some people from London. It was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, it is something that you don’t get easily and often, and you come back a different person,” says an excited Nathania.

Annie Jacob, Nathania’s mother, adds, “We were on top of the world, not only me (at the stadium), my husband back home, relatives, friends and everyone were glued to the television. We all became a little emotional, it’s a huge stage, when you look at it everything has happened in a very short time, in a dramatic way. None of us expected this. Since she is interested in the sport, we wanted to take her to the World Cup, but Russia was too far away, so we were planning maybe Qatar or someplace else. But now, she has earned it herself and it is really a proud moment. It has become slightly easier for us now, since she has been noticed and recognised by the entire country, her performance in future will also get recognition, hopefully. Otherwise, for a middle-class family, it would have been difficult to find the right way. For a girl in India to play football, is in itself, a huge task.”

“She was a little disappointed that she couldn’t meet Messi. We had written to the organisers, but the whole trip is pre-planned and organized till the last second, so it wasn’t possible. You have a schedule to follow and they had assigned a chaperone and driver who took care of us. It was an unbelievable experience to be there at the stadium with so many people around you — you can only realise it when you experience it. A few Indians there recognised her as OMBC and congratulated her,and even took pictures with her; it was really nice,” she says.

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