Exclusive: Here's how Football giving hope to "Mini-Brazil of India"

Known as the Mini-Brazil of India, Alakhpura and Mangali villages of Haryana have already produced Indian Women Footballers like Sanju Yadav, Ritu Rani, Renu Rani, Kajal and many more.

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Koushik Biswas
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Exclusive: Here's how Football giving hope to "Mini-Brazil of India"

Alakhpura and Mangali are called the mini-Brazil of India for producing many Indian women's footballers. Image | Created with image from Aljazeera, AIFF and Sportz Point

Football, a hope and dream for millions around the world and India is not far behind. In a country in love with Cricket, football provides job and food for many families in India as well. Haryana, a state renowned for producing many Olympic champions; is now creating football champions as well.

Alakhpura and Mangali, two small villages in Haryana are now known as the "Mini-Brazil of India" for producing hundreds of women's footballers every year. To have more knowledge on these villages and players from there, Sportz Point got in touch with Ravi Kumar Punia, head coach of HOPS Football Club.

Alakhpura is a village in Bhiwani district and Mangali comes under Hisar district in Haryana state.

HOPS Football Club is one of the main foundation of Women's Football in Delhi and Haryana and is run by HOPS Dharam Foundation, which provides fund and support to the girls playing football in Alakhpura and Mangali.

On a daily basis, nearly 700-800 girls practice football in Alakhpura and Mangali; which is very rare in Indian Football. To surprise you more, girls form the age of 3-4 start playing football there to represent India and wear that blue jersey someday.

To support their journey, it is not only the HOPS Dharam Foundation but the families of those footballers that come up with funds and other necessary things for the players.

"Nearly 700-800 girls play football in this two villages. Along with HOPS Dharam Foundation, it is the villagers who funds the whole process. Alakhpura and Mangali have been hubs for women's football in India and we have some great players from here who are playing for India and across age groups, as well as IWL," said Ravi Kumar Punia.

"We had three players from here who were there in the Asian Games. Four players played in the U-17 Women's World Cup and multiple players are in the State championships and other leagues representing many clubs along with HOPS Football Club," Ravi added.

Sanju Yadav, who hails from the Alakhpura village, won the prestigious AIFF Player of the Year Award in 2019-20 season.  Image | AIFF
Sanju Yadav, who hails from the Alakhpura village, won the prestigious AIFF Player of the Year Award in 2019-20 season. Image | AIFF

Sanju Yadav and Ritu Rani from Alakhpura Village were in the Asian Games squad for India along with Renu Rani who is from Mangali village.

Sanju Yadav won the AIFF Player of the Year Award back in 2019-20 season.

Not only in the senior level, players from these two villages represented India in the U-17 Women's World Cup as well. Neha, Kajol, Varshika and Shailja were part of the prestigious FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup back in 2022.

Neha in action against USA in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2022 in Bhubaneshwar.  Image | Sportz Point
Neha in action against USA in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2022 in Bhubaneshwar. Image | Sportz Point

"My father is a farmer. Everything he earns goes into our football. My younger sister is a footballer as well. She also played for India U-17 team. From byuing our shoes to providing us with good nutrition, everything goes into our football. Manisha Kalyan is my idol and I started playing football watching Renu (Rani) di play:" Neha, former India U-17 and HOPS FC footballer

But, what is the reason behind so many women's footballers coming from these two villages? HOPS FC Coach Ravi Punia came up with an honest answer. "Football gives them hope for a better future. Football provides jobs, and runs their families," Ravi told Sportz Point.

"All of these footballers come from very poor families. Most of their fathers are farmers. So, football gives them a chance for a better life. We have 22 girls from Mangali who have got Government jobs playing football along with more than 50 footballers from Alakhpura village."

"And, obviously, who does not want to see their daughters playing for India? That is why more and more families let their daughters play football from a young age in these two villages," Ravi Kumar Punia expressed.

Also Read: IWL 2023-24: HOPS FC hand East Bengal their third defeat of the season

Though all of these things look like a script out of any Bollywood movie, running a football hub like that with players from poor families is easier said than done. From professional coaching, and nutrition to injury prevention; you need to have everything covered. That is when people like Sonika Bijaria come in the rescue.

Girls and boys train together in Alakhpura under coach Sonika Bijaria.  Image | Adnan Bhat/Al Jazeera
Girls and boys train together in Alakhpura under coach Sonika Bijaria. Image | Adnan Bhat/Al Jazeera

Sonika, who is the head coach of the Alakhpura FC, does not let any points go unticked. In an interview with Aljazeera in 2018, she said, "We practise twice every day, even on Sundays. And every member of the village makes sure we have things we need in place."

The girls practice once in the the morning before going to school and then pratices again after coming back from school. In these villages, milk, curd and chickpeas are easily available, so the players are highly dependent on this diet.

Along with Sonika, Narendra coaches the girls from Mangali village, who is an AIFF D-License coach.

"Both Sonika and Narendar do a wonderful job in providing everything for the players. From coaching them to guiding them with nutrition, they have been covering everything."

"When it comes to injury prevention and other medical things, we set up physiotherapy camps on regular occasion and HOPS Foundation helps us if anything serious happens to a player," Ravi told Sportz Point.

Also Read: Indian Football News: Chhangte and Manisha Kalyan win the AIFF Player Of the Year award

With the potential, these two villages have, Ravi now wants more support and exposure for the players, especially those who are doing well.

"Sometimes the moral support is lacking. We need that for the players who are doing well at various tournaments and leagues. Players who are going out from the villages and getting selected in the various camps and teams, we just want them to play more. So, the request from us would be, give them the chance and exposure, if you feel they are good players," Ravi expressed.

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