LA Galaxy San Diego forward Batya Bagully took an extraordinary opportunity to reconnect with her birth country at a recent UEFA development tournament in FYR Macedonia.
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Many promising youngsters were given the opportunity to play for their countries for the first time at a recent UEFA women's Under-16 development tournament in FYR Macedonia – and one girl was especially excited about her first taste of international football.
LA Galaxy San Diego forward Batya Bagully played for Kazakhstan in the tournament – which also featured Luxembourg and Ukraine alongside the hosts – completing a journey from the United States back to her roots. Now approaching her 15th birthday, talented forward Bagully left Kazakhstan aged just ten months when she was adopted by a family in the United States.
She has been learning the game at the LA Galaxy San Diego academy in California since the age of eight but received an invitation from the Football Federation of Kazakhstan (KFF) to represent the country of her birth. She accepted, and – accompanied by her mother Stephanie and father James – made a long and momentous journey to the development tournament.
The journey first took Bagully to Shymkent in the south of Kazakhstan, where she spent a couple of weeks training with her new national team-mates as a part of their preparation for the UEFA tournament in Skopje.
"My journey to Shymkent was very long, but it's really great there, and beautiful," she explained. "[Although] English isn't really spoken, it's football – and football speaks the same language no matter what, so I was really looking forward to [the experience] as it was getting closer and closer."
Bagully made her debut for Kazakhstan in a 5-2 loss to hosts FYR Macedonia on the opening day of the UEFA development mini-tournament. The team drew their other two games against Ukraine and Luxembourg – and Bagully was more than thrilled at her contribution.
"I'm very proud to just be representing my country of birth and be here," she told UEFA.org. "It's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. I never thought that this would ever happen until it did!"
Playing for the first time against international opponents, Bagully saw benefits from this development tournament as far as her further progress as a footballer is concerned. "It helps me learn more about the game and the players, so it's been amazing just to be here at this tournament."
Designed to provide young players with an opportunity to test their skills and gather experience on the pitch, UEFA's development tournaments are also a wonderful chance for the next generation of footballers to meet people from different cultures and form new friendships. "[There were] girls from different countries, so it was really exciting just to meet them," Bagully reflected. "Although there is a language difference, football is the same [everywhere]. Football brings people together, no matter what language you speak."
Now back with her LA Galaxy San Diego team-mates, Bagully is waiting for the next call to represent Kazakhstan. "I have been asked by the Kazakhstan women's U16 coaches if I would be interested in playing with the team again in the future," she says. "And, of course, I said 'yes'. I would be honoured to take the field for Kazakhstan again."
"Batya's experience of playing with the Kazakhstan U16 national team was the experience of a lifetime for her," said her father James. "She was accepted quickly by the team, and they bonded into an amazing group. Everyone was absolutely wonderful, and we are still processing all the incredible things that happened, and people that we met. UEFA development tournaments are a huge success in so many ways…"