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Russia defeats Kazakhstan in finals of homeless world cup soccer

Russia defeats Kazakhstan in finals of homeless world cup soccer

Russia defeated Kazakhstan 1-0 in the finals of the homeless World Cup soccer trophy after a weeklong tournament in which every player was declared a winner.
Nearly 500 people from 48 nations took part, all sharing a common bond of destitution and marginalization and hoping to use the confidence gained during the street soccer competition to gain a better foothold in society back home.
"This event will absolutely change their perspective on life in so many different ways," said organizer Mel Young. "We can prove that by involving homeless people in sport we have the power to change lives."
Many of the African players, in particular, were orphans or victims of war. Some of the European and North American players lost their homes after falling out with their families, while others had a history of alcohol and drug abuse.
Russian captain Viacheslav Shelaevsky said he became homeless after moving from his remote village to the city of St. Petersburg only to find that he didn't have the right papers and wasn't allowed to work. Kazakhstan captain Ergali Kalikov related a similar experience.
"Football helped me save myself in difficult conditions. Football gave me new hope," Shelaevsky said.
"I will never forget these days at the homeless World Cup and the atmosphere of celebration. Finally my dream has come true," he said Saturday, as his team cruised to 13 straight victories at the tournament.
His sentiments were echoed around the asphalt pitches in downtown Cape Town. The Ugandan and Namibian squads earned rapturous applause as they danced on stage; Swedish players joked with local children; South African players hugged Brazilians.
"I am so, so happy that I was here," grinned Jula Pilar Ferreira, a mother of three and member of the Brazilian squad.
The idea for the street soccer tournament was born in Cape Town in 2001 after an international meeting of editors of street newspapers like The Big Issue, which is sold by the homeless in Britain, Australia, Namibia and South Africa. Its sponsors included European soccer association UEFA and sportswear manufacturer Nike.
The 15-minute games featured four players on each side, with small goals. Age was no object and men and women competed together.
The rationale behind the event is to instill a sense of pride _ and discipline _ in the players through being part of a team and to help them overcome problems in their regular lives.
Research published by the organizers said that of the players in last year's tournament in Edinburgh, Scotland, 94 percent reported a new motivation in life, 62 percent were coping better with alcohol and drug dependency, 40 percent had improved their housing, 38 percent held regular jobs and 28 percent had resumed their education.
"All of the team will take something back to the United States," commented Jeff Grunberg, president of the U.S. Homeless World Cup Foundation in the United States. He said that some players had opened up and become more responsive; others had learned the meaning of teamwork; others had gained experience in anger management, although some couldn't handle the pressure.
"A lot of the players are struggling. Are they social service clients or players on the team?" he added. "That's the struggle that some players couldn't quite resolve, but others did," he said.
One of the "stars" of the U.S. team was Dave McGregor, a 16-year-old Panamanian refugee who missed his final exams at school after his mother became homeless and currently lives with his mother and brother in temporary accommodation in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"I met different people and made good friends," he said, although he was noncommittal about playing again for the national squad, which finished 46th out of 48 and suffered a series of defeats including a 0-7 loss to Burundi and 0-6 loss to Austria.
But big-name soccer nations also suffered defeats. Uganda defeated Germany 4-0; Afghanistan won 3-2 on penalties against Brazil; Rwanda downed France 7-3. Two-time champion Italy didn't make the final.
"Street soccer is a great equalizer," said organizer Young.