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Julie Gopal: A diamond found in the unlikeliest place

  • April 20, 2023

Julie Gopal has what it takes to be the national hero of Mauritius. And she’s just 16-years old.

Gopal has already authored a chapter of Mauritian football history. On January 15, in a tournament organized by the Saudi Arabian Football Association, she scored the winning goal against Pakistan, lofting a loose ball from about 30 meters just over the reach of the Pakistani goalkeeper and into the net. It was the first win for ‘Lady Club M,’ as the Mauritius women’s national team is known, in an international tournament. And it may have served as a starting gun for the young midfielder’s career.

Successful trial in France

The French club, Stade Brestois 29, which plays in city of Brest in the French women’s second division, invited Gopal to a one-week tryout earlier this month. It was the first time a female football player from Mauritius had ever been given the chance to audition abroad. The Mauritian media had already started writing about a potential professional contract for the young star. “My goal is to finish this training with my head held high,” Gopal told Mauritian newspaper L’Express before leaving. “And to give everything on the pitch until the last minute to show that I belong in Europe.”

She apparently succeeded.

Gopal impressed the club’s officials so much that they extended the trial by a week. “It’s still too early to talk about her ‘future’ as a player,” board member Daniel de Roux wrote to DW. “But we might be interested in bringing her to us as part of a dual project, sports and school.” An optimal solution for Gopal will be determined by the end of the season, de Roux said, “taking into account her geographical situation, of course.”

Bottom of the pile

The island nation of Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean, some 870 kilometers east of Madagascar and has a population of about 1.2 million. Although football is considered the national sport, Mauritius has celebrated just one international sporting success, and that was in boxing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bruno Julie won bronze in the bantamweight division.

Women’s soccer is in its infancy on the island. In a 2019 survey of its member associations by world governing body FIFA, Mauritius counted around 800 active female footballers, 500 of whom were under the age of 18. The national team only played its first match in 2012.

In 2017, 2019 and 2022, Mauritius took part in the COSAFA championships which seeks to find the best women’s team in southern Africa. The record for ‘Lady Club M,’ was sobering: nine matches, nine defeats. In the current FIFA rankings, Mauritius finds itself in 188th place, bringing up the rear in world soccer.

Things can only get better. A year ago, the Mauritius Football Association announced its plans to promote women’s soccer on the island, including a national league with ten clubs, courses for women coaches, and talent scouting. Julie Gopal had already been training at the Liverpool FC International Academy (LFCIA) in Mauritius for nearly four years. The Premier League club, as it does in almost 30 countries, offers courses for young female and male football players in spaces like the national sports center of Mauritius near the capital, Port Louis.

Teenage Girl And Football Pro

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Neil Murphy, the head coach of LFCIA Mauritius, is excited about Gopal, who captained the U17 and U20 teams before being called up to the national team. “I believe Julie is head and shoulders above all her peers at the moment in the Mauritius female football environment. Because of her talents she has been playing football with boys since she was little and this has definitely helped with her youth development,” he said.

“Also here at the LFCIA she has been added to the boys group to keep her challenged and advancing. Julie is also a very intelligent girl both on and off the pitch. On the pitch she has good football IQ and is a student of the game. She listens hard and learns fast which helps her keep one step ahead of the rest.”

Growing interest in women’s football

Murphy sees great potential for women’s football in Mauritius. Year after year, more girls participate in the academy’s selection courses, the LFCIA head coach said.

“More females training and playing matches on a regular basis will produce more hidden gems like Julie Gopal. Hopefully these girls can use the likes of Julie as positive role models and continue developing on the right tracks, all for the benefit of Mauritian female football in the near future.” And perhaps that might get them off the bottom of the rankings.

This article was adapted from German

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