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Two good: Mumbai teens win trip to FIFA World Cup

Sixteen-year-old Drishti Punjabi and 15-year-old Pranjal Agarwal from Mumbai are among six youngsters from across India who will be the official flag bearers at the upcoming FIFA World Cup

Six years ago, when Drishti Punjabi, a resident of Napean Sea Road, started playing football at Priyadarshini Park, little did she imagine that one day she would get to see her favourite soccer players up, close and personal at the FIFA World Cup, the most prestigious football event in the world. But on July 1, she will able to realise this dream along with Pranjal Agarwal, a Navi Mumbai resident.

Pranjal Agarwal and Drishti Punjabi
Pranjal Agarwal and Drishti Punjabi will be on the field at Sao Paulo on July 1, holding the fair play flag, participating in the teams’ national anthems and interacting with the players, before the match

The duo, a part of a six-member contingent from across the country, will travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a pre-quarter-final match, as part of the Adidas FIFA Fairplay Flag bearers programme. They will be on the field before the match, holding the fair play flag, participating in the teams’ national anthems and interacting with the players.

Punjabi, a student of Walsingham High School, says, “My excitement level is so high that it’s difficult for me to think straight and chart out what questions I want to ask the players. I want to bask in the moment when I’m on the field on July 1.”
Agarwal, on the other hand, is very clear about what he wants to ask the players when he meets them. He says, “I would like to ask them about their experience of growing from local players to internationally-renowned sportsmen.”

Lone girl in the team
It has been a long road for both Punjabi and Agarwal to achieve this feat. Punjabi, who is the only girl among the six-member team, which has been pooled in from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, started playing football at the age of 10. She was already involved in badminton, athletics and swimming when she became intrigued by soccer.

She says, “I would often go to Priyadarshini Park and see only boys playing football. But I loved the game’s vibrant energy.” When she asked her parents for their permission, she was met with stiff opposition. “My father, a businessman, was shocked when I approached him.

But I managed to convince him saying that girls are equal to boys and are not less than them in any aspect. Today, he is very proud of me,” says Punjabi, who isn’t a member of any professional club but has been training under coach Fenny Fernandez at Priyadarshini Park. Last October, she was selected in the under-19 Maharashtra soccer team, but couldn’t play as she had injured her ankle.

The youngster, who adores Lionel Messi, admits that she isn’t too sure about pursuing football professionally due to her personal issues. “I lost my mother nine months ago. I have a younger sister, whom I have to take care of. So I don’t know if I can pursue football in the longer run.”

Stars in his eyes
Fifteen-year-old Agarwal, a student of Delhi Public School in Navi Mumbai, started playing soccer when he was six. “My elder brother would play football. One day, the sports director of my school asked me to come for the morning practice of the game.

Later, I became a part of the school team.” Over the last nine years, Agarwal has participated in several inter-school tournaments and also attended the Gothia Cup: the World Youth Cup at Sweden in 2012. It was serendipity when on May 7, he heard about the Adidas FIFA Fairplay Flag bearer programme and decided to try his luck. The organisers had contacted football clubs and schools and sent out fliers.

He says, “I underwent the selection process wherein we were judged by referees of national football club, former players and coaches on the basis of how we timed our penalty shots and dribbling skills etc. Later, we participated in a short quiz following which 30 players were selected from each city. All 30 finalists underwent a solo round post which the final two from each city were announced.”

The teenager is hopeful that this time his favourite team Germany will win the World Cup. “It has a very good net and defence strategy. Every time they go to the semi finals and lose. This time, I really want them to win,” he signs off.

Tushar Goculdas, Brand Director, adidas India, says, “This is the most exciting opportunity for young football fans in the country — bringing them close to the action on the pitch and the players they love.”

What's the programme about?
The Adidas FIFA Fairplay Flagbearers Programme is a global programme, where the objective is to find six ultimate fans of the game. It was a part of the previous editions of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups too.

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