10
Jul

World Cup Diary: Saving kids in Brazil, one game at a time

RIO DE JANEIRO —

Watching a group of girls bellowing out the Brazilian national anthem from the top of the hill at the high point of Vidigal favela, the slogan on the back of their t-shirts was mightily powerful: “I am somebody.”

It felt particularly poignant as one of the girls, Aninha, articulated how not so long ago she felt more like a nobody. Aninha is 12 years old. Her life has been turned around by football. Aninha comes from Penha, in northern Rio, one of the toughest areas in a tough city still troubled by violence and drugs — despite the fact that a pacifying unit arrived in 2010 to try to clamp down on the traffickers who held the streets in their reckless grip.

image

The 2014 World Cup has certainly captured the imagination of the children of Vidigal favela.

The idea that Aninha might make something of herself did not occur to her for much of her life, until she discovered a project called Favela Street. Their mission is to use football as an escape, an alternative, to the life that seemed inevitable to someone like Aninha. Reformed drug traffickers are trained to coach football to kids who are at risk of falling in with dangerous crowds. Through the project they find friends, empathy, and positive motivation.

"Before the project I was just hanging around in the streets with nothing to do," Aninha explained. "I didn’t want to know nothing about nothing. Maybe I kicked a ball around but I didn’t have any focus. Now I do. Now I know exactly what I want to do." She grins broadly as she explains she wants to be a professional football player. In answer to the question as to who she most admires, she does not choose Neymar, the national poster boy. Her role model is Marta, the Brazilian who is the shining light of the women’s game who was voted the best player in the world five consecutive times.

image

Brazil legend Bebeto was one of the main attractions at the Street Child World Cup.

Aninha and some of the new friends she now describes as “family” represented Brazil in the Street Child World Cup, which took place in Rio a couple of months before the FIFA event that is a multi-million dollar industry rolled into town. More than 230 former street children from around the world, representing 19 different countries came to compete. The Brazilian girls won, although for Aninha the opportunity to meet people from all around the globe was an additional success that was profoundly meaningful.

 The seriousness of the situation some of these children find themselves in was tragically exposed when one of the players was killed. Rodrigo was due to captain the Brazil boys’ team at the Street Child World Cup. He had managed to tear his life away from the streets — but was shot by drug traffickers. It was his 14th birthday.

With the World Cup up and running, on the eve of Brazil’s quarterfinal victory over Colombia, Aninha and her friends got the opportunity to take on a group of illustrious opponents. Some ex-internationals, the likes of France’s Patrick Vieira, Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, England’s Glenn Hoddle and Ian Wright, played in mixed teams with the girls on Ipenama beach.

image

Stars such as World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and England legend Glenn Hoddle were at Ipenama beach.

Frankly, it spoke volumes that the girls were not overwhelmed by the experience. These ex-pros didn’t mean a great deal to them, but the Favela Street kids enjoyed the kick-around with fearlessness and zest. They were not easily fazed. At the age of 12, Aninha, and her friends, take a lot in their impressive stride.

Photos from provided by Getty Images.

9
Jul

World Cup Day 23: Netherlands vs. Argentina

image

In case you haven’t heard, the 2014 World Cup final is set: Germany vs. Argentina. Or, Lionel Messi vs. THE MACHINE, as Jon Champion so eloquently put it.

Mmm, tasty!

One thing immediately became clear: Just 24 hours after Germany handed Brazil its most humiliating defeat of all time, the hosts couldn’t jump on Germany’s bandwagon quick enough. Funny how this game goes sometimes:

Speaking of, Wednesday’s semifinal (or should I say, zzzzzz-emifinal) between Argentina and the Netherlands was NOTHING like Germany’s rout.

All you really need to know is that the Dutch and Albiceleste combined for five shots on goal for the entire 90 minutes and extra-time, the same number of goals Germany scored in 19 minutes of the first half on Tuesday. Yeah…

So how did we get to this World Cup final rematch of 1990 and 1986, the “rubber match” if you will between Germany and Argentina? Check out the best tweets:

image

The big story of the first half was Javier Mascherano visibly seeing stars after a head-to-head collision, then being allowed to play on. Yet another concussion controversy in soccer. Ho-hum:

Somehow, that was literally the only talking point of the first half

Half time!

Alas, the second 45 minutes were much like the first:

Read More

13
Jun

Here’s what Sao Paulo sounds like during a Brazil World Cup match

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s an absolutely massive soccer tournament called the World Cup going on in Brazil.

Brazilians are obsessed with soccer, and in case you had any doubt (really?), the video above puts that to rest.

Shot in Sao Paulo, a city that boasts a metropolitan population of over 20 million, the video captures the city’s reaction to Thursday’s World Cup opening match between Brazil and Croatia (also held in Sao Paulo).

The event is so massive that the streets are almost entirely empty. We’re assuming the rare car or person you see is the sucker that drew the short straw reluctantly going to replenish on beer beverages.

There’s not much else to say other than press play, and enjoy the horns, whistles, fireworks and unfiltered adulation as Brazil mounts their comeback.

THIS is the World Cup.

(h/t reddit)

13
Jun

Two of the peace doves released in the World Cup opener are dead

image

What was supposed to be a symbol of peace had a tragic ending. Two of the three doves released during the World Cup opening ceremony instantly flew to their deaths.

But not to worry, one of the doves found safety in the press box, so hope for world peace is still alive and well.

(H/T YardBarker)

13
Jun

Union Berlin turns home stadium into “World Cup Living Room”

image

German club Union Berlin had their home stadium, An der Alten Forsterei, turned into a giant living room to offer fans the greatest World Cup viewing party possible.

Dubbed the WM Wohnzimmer (“World Cup living room”), 780 sofas were registered and set up on the pitch, along with end tables and lamps, and whatever is required for a wonderful evening of World Cup viewing.

Not a bad way to take in the biggest tournament in the world.

H/T Metro

Image: Reuters

12
Jun

#TBT: Brazil, the forever home of Joga Bonito

The long four year wait is finally over and 2014 World Cup is upon us. In case you hadn’t heard, this edition of the tournament is being held in Brazil, the home of joga bonito.

Many impostors may try to emulate their unique style, but there is only one Brazil. Their rhythm is matched to music — and it’s quite the catchy beat:

If this doesn’t get you dancing in your seat, you might want to check your pulse.

9
Jun

Neymar makes young pitch invader’s day at Brazil training

image

This lucky kid got to dribble next to Neymar. (Image: @fcb_OneTouch)

There may not be a more likable soccer star right now than Neymar Jr.

Brazil’s World Cup poster child saved a young pitch-invading fan from being taken away by security at the Selecao’s training session on Monday, and instead brought 8-year-old Bernardo Nunes over to meet his idols and snap some pictures.

Neymar has a history of doing this, too. In a March friendly against South Africa, the Barcelona forward came to the rescue of another young pitch invader, even getting his teammates to hoist the boy up in the air for a night he’ll never forget.

With acts of kindness like these, it’ll be hard for anyone to root against Neymar during this World Cup, especially with it being held in his home country.

7
Jun

Julio Cesar gets emotional again, and it’s incredibly touching

image

You’ll always know if Cesar happy, sad or mad (Image: USA Today).

It’s no secret that Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar is an emotional guy. He’s never hidden how he feels, whether it’s a happy moment — like joining QPR — or a sad one, like losing in the World Cup.

So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the accomplished keeper let the tears flow again, this time as he bid farewell to his Toronto FC teammates.

Sure, he’d only spent a few months with the club and played in just seven matches, but it’s clear the Canadian club made a huge impact on him. Before Cesar shipped off to Brazil for this summer’s World Cup, the team presented him with a touching gift, and the waterworks couldn’t be stopped:

You can see just how much his time at TFC meant to him. For a guy who’s won just about everything a player could dream of in his lengthy career, it’s sweet that even something as seemingly small as a framed photograph can make him break down.

But even with all of his accomplishments, Cesar still doesn’t have the elusive World Cup. If Brazil go all the way this summer, let’s hope someone’s got a box of extra-strength tissues close by.

(H/T 101GG)