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Setting her goals

P. ANIMA
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CHAT Footballer Nikhila Thumbayil is setting her eyes on a place in the national team

Her worldNikhila Thumbayil wants to play at the next levelPHOTO: K. RAGESH
Her worldNikhila Thumbayil wants to play at the next levelPHOTO: K. RAGESH

Young footballer Nikhila Thumbayil is going through the inherent emotions that mark a sportsperson’s life – exquisite highs and disheartening lows. The only Keralite in India’s Under -19 women’s football team, this 16-year-old Plus II student of Nadakkavu Girls’ Higher Secondary School has had a hectic three months.

Football has recently taken her to Malaysia and Vietnam. In the first round of the AFC Under -19 Championship Qualifiers, India unexpectedly cruised past Bangladesh and Uzbekistan to make it to the second round. In Malaysia, Nikhila set the mood by scoring the lone winner against Bangladesh. “But we lost all our three matches in the second round in Vietnam,” Nikhila recounts the dismal performance sitting on the steps around her school ground — the place where it all began.

Recognition is trickling in for Nikhila now. After her recent performances, she was among the three picked from the Under-19 team for the seniors camp at Maharashtra for a few friendly matches against Holland.

This being a vital academic year for her, Nikhila has written to the authorities about her inability to attend the camp. “I am in Plus II and I have already missed a lot of classes. We have a lot of special classes and model exams to attend.”

The young girl from Naduvattom spent her childhood playing with the boys in her neighbourhood. “We didn’t even know there was women’s football,” she says. But it was a newspaper advertisement her well-wishers came across that changed the trajectory for Nikhila. “Coaching classes in women’s football were being conducted at Nadakkavu school. I joined this school and ever since it has not been the same,” she says.

“I have been here for the past five years. Whatever I am today I owe it to the school and my coach Fousiya,” says Nikhila. All aspects of her technique, be it shooting, dribbling, passing and positioning, have been sharpened by her coach, says the centre-half.

Nikhila’s football has been one that meant rising through the ranks, having played in the Under -14 and Under-17 levels. She has particularly proud memories of playing in the Under-14 level where she was the forward. At an AFC Under-14 event in Sri Lanka, she recalls scoring nine goals. “I was the second top-scorer there,” she says.

Nikhila plans to set her eyes firmly on football once she is through with her Plus II. “The aim is to be a good footballer, for me, the next level is the senior team,” she says. Nikhila is also particularly thankful for the support her parents, Surendran, a driver and Sheeba, a home maker , have been. As a player who wants to raise her game to the next level, Nikhila rues the lack of competition at the local level. “In other States, women’s football is played very competitively,” says the player who doesn’t have sponsors yet.

P. ANIMA

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