Kazandjian and Wilkinson giving back to Montreal’s West Island

  • Canada's Lara Kazandjian scored one of the goals of the tournament so far

  • She comes from the same area in Montreal as head coach Rhian Wilkinson

  • Their connection goes back more than seven years ago

At the age of 16 Lara Kazandjian has accomplished things that many people never will in their lifetime: she speaks three languages (Armenian, French and English) and she’s scored a goal at a World Cup.

At 151 centimetres she may be one of the shortest players at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018 but she’s already made a big impact, scoring one of the most impressive goals of the tournament so far - and her first ever at U-17 level at that - to cap off a 2-0 victory for Canada that sealed their place in the knockout rounds.

“I honestly don’t remember exactly what happened,” she told FIFA.com. “But it was a really good feeling to see that ball go into the net.” When asked how many times she was going to watch the goal back, she replied: “Probably a lot of times! It’s a moment that I’m never going to forget.”

When Kazandjian was a nine-year-old, Rhian Wilkinson visited her club team Lakeshore to talk about her journey as an Olympian during her preparation to play for Canada at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.

Fast forward six years and Kazandjian is scoring crucial goals at a World Cup. Her head coach? Rhian Wilkinson.

“I find it really cool how things turn out,” Kazandjian said. “She continues to inspire me.”

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - NOVEMBER 19: Lara Kazandjian of Canada and head coach Rhian Wilkinson stand for a portrait during the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 on November 19, 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Their connection doesn’t end there and it actually comes full circle. Kazandjian recently began coaching Wilkinson’s nephew at a summer camp. They both hail from Montreal's West Island; Kazandjian in Kirkland and Wilkinson in neighbouring Baie D’Urfe.

When you hear them describe one another, it’s clear Kazandjian was inspired by her fellow Quebecer. “She’s really a hard worker and she never stops,” Kazandjian said of Wilkinson. “When she was a player, I could always tell she was always running, going after the ball and even now she works hard, so I respect that about her.”

“She’s got a work ethic that inspires those around her,” Wilkinson said of Kazandjian. “When you see smaller players, I love it when people judge them because they’ve usually had to fight more than anyone else to win their spot and they’ve gotten strong and learned how to use their bodies well. She does do that.”

Kazandjian is a highly-technical, artful attacking midfielder who plays with confidence and has an eye for a pass. “She plays in a two-touch, three-touch rhythm that I really appreciate; I like the ball moving,” Wilkinson said.

They both actively give back to their community in Montreal, but their next hope is to bring a World Cup trophy to the West Island.

“I’m very proud of where I’ve come from,” Wilkinson said. “A journey is about the enjoyment of it and if it ends with the World Cup than that’s the perfect thing.

"But if it doesn’t, but you’ve enjoyed every moment of it, you’re still being successful in many ways because you’ve inspired them along the national team journey. This would be a huge milestone for them to win this World Cup. But if I’ve inspired them on and kicked them on to the U-20s and then the seniors, I will count that as a success.”

The truth is that Wilkinson already inspired one player currently living her dream in Montevideo.