Punjab's Gurleen Kaur rises to wear India blue at 12

Gurleen is not even a teenager, and yet she's rubbing shoulders with girls three to four years older than her. 

Update: 2024-03-03 10:14 GMT

Gurleen Kaur 

What were you doing when you were 12? Gurleen Kaur will be able to say that she was wearing the blue of India and representing the nation in international football. At 12 years and 267 days of age, she made her India debut, coming on in the final few minutes of India's SAFF U16 Women's Championship win over Bhutan in Nepal on Friday.

"I wasn't nervous at all," the young striker did not hesitate to confirm. "My parents watched my debut. They told me on the phone that they are proud to see me playing for the country."

Gurleen is not even a teenager, and yet she's rubbing shoulders with girls three to four years older than her. It's not usual to have such young players in what is already the youngest age-group national team. But there are no two ways about it - she is good enough to be here, affirmed head coach Biby Thomas. A disciplined and calm figure not just on, but off the training pitch too.

Gurleen Kaur 

"Gurleen is intelligent with the ball and always tries to make the best use of possession, better than many 16-year-olds. If we provide her the right path now, she will have a big future ahead and can become a great striker. She is very sensible, mature and confident for her age. With every minute she plays, she will grow into a better player," opined Thomas.

"I love playing as a striker. I like shooting and scoring goals, but I also want to help my team, so I like to play a passing game too. My inspiration is Sunil Chhetri. Internationally, I like Cristiano Ronaldo," said Gurleen, a seventh-class student from Mallah, a village in the Ludhiana district of Punjab. She may be young, but her relationship with the ball goes back many years, which is perhaps what makes her a special talent.

"I began playing when I was five. My father wanted me to play sports. I started with football for a year, then switched to boxing, but it didn't generate my interest, so I came back to football. I played in an academy in Chakar, a village just three kilometres from my home," she shared.

Gurleen was selected for the Ludhiana district team and subsequently, the Punjab state team for the Sub Junior Girls National Football Championship Tier 1 held in Amritsar last year, where she scored three goals. That's when she caught the eyes of the national team scouts and earned her place in the current Indian U16 batch.

Goalkeeper coach Jasmeet Singh, who also hails from Punjab, shared how times are changing now in the state with regards to the women's game.

"Women's football is growing rapidly in Punjab. You can find girls playing football in villages across the state. It's great to see such a talent emerging from Punjab, especially a girl. Manisha Kalyan has played an important role in creating a pathway and inspiring girls in the state. Parents are more aware now. They don't differentiate between boys and girls and are actively encouraging girls to play football," said Jasmeet.

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