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For the love of country

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Not many athletes can understand it. Not many athletes have a chance to represent their country. The ones that do get it, they get the sense of pride that come with it comes putting on their nations colors.

When the national anthem is playing there is just something different. The pride in the players singing the national anthem brings chills to those who are watching. They just aren’t playing for themselves that day, they are playing for a nation. For everyone that has that nationality in their blood.

At a young age Petra Bandula is already living her soccer dream. She gets to put on the famed checkered jersey of the Croatian National team. Every time she is able to represent her country there is that sense of pride that comes over her.

“To wear the colours of Croatia, specifically the very well recognized checkers is an unforgettable experience,” stated Bandula. “To be able to represent the country of my grandparents is an indescribable feeling. Just knowing the sacrifices they went through to come to Canada, and I am able to make them proud by representing Croatia on a global stage is a dream.”

It is a dream come true for Bandula. She is playing against some of the best competition in the world, and on the world stage. She gets to prove to herself, and everyone, that she has what it takes to take her game to the next level.

By playing against tough competition, it motivates Bandula to get bigger, stronger and faster. This is just the becoming of her journey, not the end.

“Having the opportunity to play against this type of competition has not only pushed me to be a better player, but has allowed me to grow and excel as an individual,” stat wed Bandula. “By facing tough competition it has motivated me to become more focussed and stronger with each game. The insights I have gained on and off the field over the last few months are immeasurable.”

Bandula”s journey just hasn’t taken her to the national team, but also across the border to Western New York. That’s where she plays her club soccer for the WNY Flash, the premier club team in the area.

Here she is able to play, and train, with some of the best players in the area. Most of these girls go on to play Division I soccer. Something that Bandula is striving to accomplish herself.

“Playing on the Western New York Flash 08G ECNL team for Coach Eric Dade has been a wonderful opportunity,” stated Bandula. “Since I joined the team, I have been able to play in a highly competitive environment with girls that are just as passionate about the sport as I am. Knowing that College coaches are monitoring many of the girls I play with and tracking their progress provides me with a sense of motivation to show that I belong alongside them.”

It’s a commitment to come across to the states everyday for training. Bandula has school, and school work, then come to Buffalo to train, then go back to Canada. It takes a lot of time, and dedication.

We aren’t even talking about games and showcases. Bandula credits her parents for allowing her to pursue this dream that she has. A dream that one day will see her play for a Division I school, and beyond.

“I am extremely grateful that my family is so supportive of me and this path that I have decided to pursue. Making the commitment to come for my travel soccer to WNY Flash to play in the ECNL league was really a no brainer as soccer has always been top priority for me,” stated Bandula. “Even though it is not always easy with extended commutes for practices, games and showcases, I am so grateful for my dedicated parents, who are my biggest supporters.”

Besides playing for the Flash, Bandula has also been all over world at different camps improving her game. Being able to play in other countries allows Bandula to elevate her game. It allows her to learn from some of the best names in the world.

It’s something that Bandula doesn’t take for grant it. She know’s how lucky she is to be able to get the best teaching, best practices.

“Playing in different camps and venues has evolved my game and style of play. I was blessed to have played friendlies with the Club Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, that provided a different perspective / style of play that I was not accustomed to,” stated Bandula. “It allowed me to learn from world class coaches and elevate my style of play. I find when I do go play overseas and come back, I am able to bring something different to the game. My level of intensity increases and the dynamics of my play evolve.”

On the pitch, Bandula has a nose for net. In recent Euro qualifiers, Bandula was on fire. She stepped up and showed she can do it on the biggest stage with all eyes watching her.

Even with her having a pretty solid qualifying tournament, Bandula knows she can do more. That’s the drive she has. She has the drive to still get better every single day. She isn’t resting on what she did yesterday, it’s all about how can she improve to be a better person, and player, each time out.

“I think this part of my game is something I am still working on and trying to get better at. Every game is different, sometimes the opportunity on goal comes, sometimes they don’t. Remaining patient and playing the game I know how to play has been extremely vital,” stated Bandula. “As I get older, I think ball training and analyzing games has allowed me to grow this aspect of my game. Whether it is scoring, or making that extra pass for that assist, just doing my part in helping the team out in any way I can is what I strive to do every game.”

No one knows how the journey will end for Bandula, after all it just started. She has the game to play at the Division I level, and beyond. It’s a journey that she hopes will start with the Croatian National team earning a spot in the European Championships.

Being able to make the championship will help grow the sport even more in Croatia. As we have seen in the last World Cup, there are teams that can jump out and surprise. Italy has been a country that in years past never really helped out the women’s team.

Once they put money, and resources behind the team, big things have been happening. The same thing could happen in Croatia. They could be a sleeping giant.

“There are no words to adequately describe what it would mean to me if Croatia were to qualify for the European U17 Championship in Sweden. It would be a pinnacle moment not just for the Women's game in the country of Croatia but also surrounding countries in the Balkan region,” stated Bandula. “The women's game in the last couple of years have grown so much, investments have been made by FIFA, competition has gotten stronger (as witnessed in the 2023 World Cup) and it is only going to grow and get stronger as the years go on. Qualifying would be a testament to all of the hard work done behind the scenes by the Croatian Federation and all the dedicated Coaches who believe in it. It truly would be a great accomplishment for futboll in our country. “

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