Young Victorian footballers Nia Stamatopoulos and Paige Zois are about to take giant strides in their journey towards achieving their dreams of becoming fully fledged Matildas. Later this month, each of the young players will step out onto a football pitch in Bishkek, the capital of the remote Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, wearing a Junior Matildas shirt. Their mission will be to help the Junior Matildas win their group against the likes of Palestine, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic and Chinese Tapei and thus qualify for the 2019 AFC U 16 Women’s Championship in Thailand.
Both players earned themselves a place in the 23 player Junior Matildas squad after proving themselves at two recent national training camps. Fifteen year old midfielder Stamatopoulos learnt of her selection through email early in the week.
“It was just crazy from them on,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“I was just so speechless, just so honoured to have this opportunity. Everyone is just so happy. All the support and all the messages have been amazing.”
Stamatopoulos says she doesn’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but intends to find out more in the lead up to the trip.
She may not know much about the country where she’ll make her Junior Matildas debut, but she is already focused on the job ahead.
“Obviously we know what we’re there for, what we’re competing for. But personally for me, I can’t really think about that [pressure] all too much. I’ve just got to focus on my game and how I can make an influence on the team and how we as a team can perform well and do what we need to do to get at the top,” she says.
Whilst she agrees that the expectations on the players’ performance is higher in the national training camps, Stamatopoulos says that it is “a great group of girls. Getting to know them has made me feel more comfortable and friendly.”
Nia’s father, Peter Stamatopoulos, believes that his daughter’s selection in the Junior Matildas squad and her experience in the training camps, has spurred her on even further to develop as a footballer. Not bad for someone who initially preferred basketball but converted to soccer, with the encouragement of her brother, Arthur.
“The fact that they’ve acknowledged that she’s good enough to play at that level is amazing,” Peter says of his daughter’s selection.
“That has now motivated her even more to train harder and become better. She doesn’t want this to end now. She’s getting a taste of it and she loves it.”
Another indication of Nia’s determination to devote herself to football and improve her game, was her decision to switch schools this year. After receiving an invitation, Nia decided to change schools to Maribynong Secondary College, which has an integrated Football program.
“It’s a new program started this year,” Nia says.
“It’s so good. I train four times a week. So I have to wake up early. There’s also an Athlete Development Program- a gym program.”
Whilst Kyrgyzstan beckons in the immediate future, Nia hopes that one day she can have a career in the field of Sports Science as well as a career as a professional footballer.