July 2nd, 2013
San Sebastian, Spain
Minutes before the beginning of their second match of the Donosti Cup, the Yuwa girls looked ready for business. Their synchronized warm-up routine complete and their water bottles filled, they filed onto the ground alongside their opponents: a Spanish team of notably taller girls. Around the football field, the Supergoats’ fan base consisted of the TZBZ students who raised the money for the trip, a flock of curious kids who had migrated from a nearby park to watch the game, professional photographers following the story, and several old Spanish men leaning against the back fence.
The girls looked calm and eager to prove that this was their game.
I, on the other hand, had difficulty standing still due to nervous excitement.
The day before, the Supergoats had lost their first match (1 – 3) to a team from Wisconsin (USA). As the first match of the long-anticipated tournament, tensions had run high. The girls played with their usual zeal—but their decision-making seemed affected by the high stakes and new conditions. The team from Wisconsin was big, strong, and organized. The Supergoats, unfamiliar with playing on such a large ground against a truly competitive team, failed to utilize the space or communicate with each other.
It was a tough loss. But with all the new things to see in Spain, the team spirit rebounded quickly after leaving the ground. The next morning, Coach Sonu channeled their renewed energy into a strategy session and pre-match practice, utilizing the ground behind our dormitories. By afternoon, the girls were charged and prepared for their second match.
Winning matches at the Donosti Cup was not the ultimate goal of this experience. In fact, for many people, it wasn’t expected that the Yuwa team would win any matches. Spain is the football mecca of the world, and the Donosti tournament annually attracts the most competitive youth teams around. The Yuwa team doesn’t even have the opportunity to play in a local league in India—it’d be surprising if they were able to keep up with their more experienced competitors.
When matched with the group of village girls from an Indian non-profit organization, opposing teams at Donosti did not expect a difficult game. When we spoke with other coaches at the beginning of matches, they were always gracious and excited to meet the team—but their attitude was sometimes patronizing.
But anyone who’s seen the Yuwa girls play knows that they are formidable fighters. I knew they could win. Franz and Sonu knew they could win. And even after their initial loss, the Supergoats knew they could win too.
Early on, it was clearly a fairly even match-up. The Yuwa girls, in their usual style, aggressively made up for their smaller size by throwing their entire bodies into getting behind the ball. The Spanish girls looked shocked upon being plowed over—I think the Yuwa girls were playing a much more physical game than the one to which the Spanish are accustomed. Or maybe they just weren’t expecting the Indian girls to get so pushy.
The fast-moving game moved into the second half still tied at 0 – 0. Sonu decided to make a switch on the field: a younger sister replacing her older sister’s position.
Laxmi Kumari is a striker. She’s the youngest and the smallest on her team. With huge eyes and spindly limbs, she doesn’t look like much of a threat. For years, she’s played in the shadow of her ultra-competitive older sister, Punam. Since joining Yuwa, Laxmi’s initially confrontational attitude and behavior with other players has improved dramatically. While in Spain, she adopted a habit of quietly imitating the sounds that foreign objects make: electric scooters, hand-dryers, and elevators. She also invented the Pudding and French Bread Sandwich.
On the field, Laxmi turns into a miniature machine.
And so it was that in the middle of the second half, there was a quick pass to Laxmi. She gained possession with three Spanish girls on her tail and, in an instant, hammered the ball past the goalkeeper. The girls exploded into cheers, some of them spontaneously somersaulting to the ground in joy. They rushed at Laxmi, collapsed on each other. Within minutes, the game was over. They had won.
There were many unforgettable moments on this trip, but this one just shines like the sun.
The following video compiles footage from the families’ send-off in Jharkhand, the press conference in Kolkata, matches at Donosti, and sightseeing in San Sebastian. For footage of Laxmi’s winning goal, skip to 3:20.
Thank you for sticking with this blog despite the lag in posting! I will likely make one or two more posts about Spain. I’m eager to finish posting about Spain so I can start writing a bit about what’s been happening in Jharkhand (A LOT). Stay tuned.