- Teenager Zahra Muzdalifah is among Indonesia’s hottest prospects
- Forward aims to become the first Indonesia female player to move to Europe
- “I hope I can open a door for our women players”
Few footballers can say they scored their first international goal as a 17-year-old. Indonesia striker Zahra Muzdalifah did, however, net a header at that tender age, which not only broke her international duck, but also turned the game on its head.
It was in their last group match against Philippines during the 2018 AFF Women's Championship. Hosts Indonesia entered the contest having drawn their opener 0-0 and suffered two heavy defeats, leaving it as their last chance to salvage some pride in front of their home supporters.
Things didn't go as expected, though. Within a quarter-hour they were two goals down. The game turned when Muzdalifah popped up to pull one back with a thumping header shortly after the interval. Inspired by the goal, Indonesia pressed harder with Mayang Mayang drawing the scoreline level before Syenida Meryfandina gave them the lead.
The game ended in 3-3 draw with the visitors equalising through a last-ditch effort. However, Muzdalifah and her team-mates earned plaudits for their spirited and impressive showing.
"It was my first goal which I scored through a header," the 19-year-old Indonesia No10 told FIFA.com. "I think all my goals for the national team so far have been headers. We didn't play badly but unfortunately we failed to win.
"To be honest, I was thrilled seeing the ball fly home. I felt my blood pumping faster and I asked myself, 'Isn’t that really a goal?' It was something which words couldn't explain. I was very proud and happy."
Muzdalifah continued to impress a month later in the 2018 Asian Games, also hosted by Indonesia. The team fared better, registering a 6-0 victory against Maldives with Muzdalifah recording a double.
"Even now when I recall those moments, I feel goosebumps,” she said. “After all, the goals were scored for our country. Of course, our supporters chanted for us throughout and boosted our spirit."
Indeed, the development of women's football has picked up pace over recent years in Indonesia. Passion for the game has been ignited across the country after their successful hosting of the regional competition and Asian Games. And a year later, their first women's top league, Liga 1 Putri, was launched in 2019. Muzdalifah, already a rising star, was signed up by Persija Putri and handed their No9 jersey.
The youngster made an immediate impact. Notably, she scored twice as her side overcame heavyweights Persija 2-1. An untimely injury – a high-grade tricep tear – may have seen Muzdalifah miss out on the rest of the season, but her brilliant performances for both club and country have seen her among the country's hottest prospects.
"I made big progress in 2018 and 2019," she said. "I was training hard. Every day I wanted to achieve something new playing for the national team and my club.
"The AFF Women's Championship, Asian Games and Liga 1 Putri really gave a big boost to the women's game. It provided us with more opportunities to play. But this year things were halted due to COVID-19 and I hope the pandemic will be gone soon and we will return to the pitch."
Marta, Morgan Neymar and Europe
Muzdalifah is harbouring dreams of being a trailblazer and becoming the first Indonesian female player to move to Europe. Her favourite club is Sweden's FC Rosengard, former long-term home to Brazilian megastar Marta.
"I like the club because of Marta," Muzdalifah said. "She is the greatest female star of all time. Of course, my realistic goals are to find a European club which accepts my ability. I hope I can open a door for our women players.”
Besides Marta, Muzdalifah has a couple of other star players from whom she has drawn inspiration in the likes of Neymar and Alex Morgan.
“I admire Neymar for his superb skills and I like Morgan for her no-nonsense style of play," she said. "I want to become a sharp striker like her and score more goals.”
Indonesia are powerhouses in badminton, which is the nation’s most popular sport, having produced world-class stars like Susi Susanti. And Muzdalifah believes Indonesia can reach similar heights in women’s football if they can maintain the current pace of development.
“If we give women players enough trust and if they are provided with plenty of opportunities, they will improve quickly," she said. "Today, our women’s game is on the rise and I believe we can achieve greater in the future. We will produce our women’s football versions of Susi Susanti.”