Tamil Nadu's Nathania set to have a ball at the World Cup in Russia

Nathania John. K, 11, will lead out the players in the FIFA World Cup match between Brazil and Costa Rica on June 22.

Nathania John (bottom right) at a promotional event alongside India football team captain Sunil Chhetri   -  PTI

While most Indian football enthusiasts will watch the FIFA World Cup on television, 11-year-old Nathania John from Tamil Nadu will be in Russia, rubbing shoulders with the likes of global football superstars such as Neymar and Philippe Coutinho.

Nathania, a skilled footballer herself, has earned the opportunity of a lifetime along with 10-year-old Rishi Tej from Karnataka, to be on a World Cup pitch during a match. Nathania and Rishi were chosen as Official Match Ball Carriers from India in a contest held by Kia Motors.

Nathania will have her moment in the spotlight when she leads the teams for the group stage clash between Brazil and Costa Rica on June 22 at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.

WATCH: Meet India's official World Cup match ball carrier

“It is a very happy and proud moment for me. I'm really grateful to have such an opportunity to represent India and especially to represent the girls of this country," an elated Nathania tells Sportstar from Delhi.  

Nathania, who plays as a centre-forward for her school team, adores Argentine and Barcelona icon Lionel Messi. She has as many as 17 scrapbooks filled with pictures of Messi. “I’m rooting for Argentina to win the World Cup for two reasons; because they have a really good team and because I'm a huge fan of Lionel Messi. I also support FC Barcelona and wherever Messi plays, it's my dream to play there,” she says. 

However, she's quick to voice her displeasure over Brazilian playmaker Neymar's departure from Barcelona. “I'm definitely a little angry with Neymar because he left Barca, but at the same time I'm looking forward to see him play. I'm also eager to meet Coutinho because he's also from Barcelona."

While it's only natural to feel a tad nervous ahead of such a big event, Nathania is unfazed. “I don't see any point in being nervous. I've got the chance and my focus is to go there and enjoy every moment of my trip to Russia,” she says.

A holiday to remember

A student of Rishi Valley School in Chittoor district, the World Cup opportunity presented itself when she had come home to Kotagiri for her summer break. “Nathania had come home on a holiday and a friend of mine sent us details of the contest,” says Annie, her mother. 

Nathania has been honing her football skills over the last two years. When she attended a coaching camp at  First Kicks soccer school in Coimbatore in May, the coaches were impressed with her skills. “The coaches said she had an excellent game and supreme skills for her age and prompted us to apply for the contest. That's when we thought we'd try our luck,” she adds.

READ:  Karnataka’s Rishi, TN’s Nathania to be Official Match Ball Carriers at FIFA WC

Annie uploaded a 30-second clip of a Barcelona jersey-clad Nathania showing off her dribbling skills on the turf and soon received a call saying her daughter was among 50 participants chosen from more than 1,500 entries.  “We went to Delhi for the trials and Sunil Chhetri (Indian captain) was there. In fact, it was Sunil who chose the finalists,” she adds.  

Annie is excited about how this opportunity could fuel Nathania's football dreams. “She wants to make it big as a footballer. She wants to go abroad to learn the game and come back to play in India. That's her dream."