Just over a year ago, Camille Rodriguez was in India, with the Philippines women’s national team for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. The tournament became a landmark moment for the side as it secured a semifinal spot, thus ensuring its first-ever qualification for the Women’s World Cup, set to be held in Australia and New Zealand from July.
Now, Rodriguez is back in India to play in the Indian Women’s League (IWL) happening in Ahmedabad, representing Lord’s FA (LFA). After flying in from Manilla just a day before her side’s opening game on April 27, Rodriguez scored a second-half hat-trick to help her side to a 4-0 win over Celtic Queens to announce her arrival.
LFA, which formed its women’s team only in 2020, caused a big upset when it pipped two-time reigning IWL champion Gokulam Kerala in the 2021-22 Kerala Women’s League (KWL) with a 5-2 win in the final. The domestic title meant it qualified for the IWL on its first attempt.
A big part of the Kochi-based side’s successful KWL campaign was the creative spark provided by Indian international Indumathi Kathiresan, who was snapped up by Gokulam ahead of the IWL. This transfer sent LFA into a hurried lookout for a midfielder to hold the side together, going into its first-ever national tournament.
LFA’s search was aided by a football agency named Wingman Sports which connected it to Rodriguez just about a month ago. With her stint with Spanish side Mislata FC nearing its end, she struck a deal with Lord’s FA, leading to her arrival at the IWL.
Having joined the team barely 24 hours before the opening game, LFA manager Nirvan Shah opted to use Rodriguez from the bench against Celtic Queens.
“I didn’t even have a training session with my teammates. So, that [sitting out the first half] helped me understand how my team plays and how the opposition was set up. I also needed some time to adjust to the climate here,” said Rodriguez
The 28-year-old is not renowned for her goalscoring prowess at the senior level, as she usually plays in the central midfield. But on Thursday, she was deployed as an attacking midfielder, which gave her the licence to explore the attacking third in a free-roaming position.
With her IWL debut being an early kick-off – only evening games are available for live streaming – Rodriguez offered a description of her hat-trick on IWL debut.
“The first goal was a left-footed shot from the edge of the box. The second was from a rebound, and the third came in the last minute of the game with a low shot to the bottom left corner,” Rodriguez said.
“My family badly wanted to watch my debut. Sadly, there was no live stream, as ours was a morning game. I am hoping to play more evening games [which will be streamed on AIFF’s YouTube channel] so that they all can see me play here.”
Hailing from a family, which loves football, for Rodriguez, taking up the sport seriously, was only a matter of time.
“My dad used to play football at state and regional level, and he is my biggest inspiration. A few of my siblings and cousins too play at varsity level. But I did try my hand at other sports before landing on football. I made my decision after I saw my brother come home with a football medal.”
“I have represented my country in various age groups since I was 14 and made my senior debut when I was 16. To qualify for World Cup, coincidentally, here in India, is a huge honour and pride, considering that no Philippines side [men or women] has ever achieved it.
At the World Cup, we expect ourselves to be one of the most prepared sides. Our team management has helped us by taking us to different parts of the world, helping us learn. The World Cup will help us gain another layer of experience,” she added.
Though she was a regular starter for her national side coming into the 2022 Asian Cup, Rodriguez was resigned to a bench role in the tournament.
“I am a competitive player. I always want to start games and contribute. It was a little difficult to adjust to the [bench] role. But in the end, it is about respecting the coach’s decision, understanding what is good for the side and bringing glory to the country.”
Before the 2022 Asian Cup, the Philippines had never made it out of the group stage in the competition. But it gained new ground, by entering the semifinal of the competition and qualifying for the World Cup. From what she has seen with Indian women’s football, Rodriguez feels similar success awaits the Indian team.
“Though it is early days, I can say that the standard of competition [in IWL] is impressive. Just like in the Philippines, the Indian women’s football team is better placed to reach a World Cup than the men’s side. And I think it will happen soon enough,” said Rodriguez.
LFA is scheduled to face Sethu FC on April 30 and will also have to go up against Odisha FC – which has all-time Indian top scorer Bala Devi in its ranks – later in the competition.
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