Gilberto Silva has revealed that he didn't realise the magnitude of winning the World Cup and what it meant to the people of Brazil.
The midfielder, who played for Arsenal between 2002 and 2008, making him one of 'The Invincibles', won the World Cup with Brazil at the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.
"It's still hard to believe that I won the World Cup for my country," he tells BT Sport in an upcoming documentary. "I was one of the younger players at the time and didn't really think about the responsibility. It was only when we returned to Brazil with the trophy that I understood what it meant to the people. For them football has always been a source of joy and hope."
The latest installment of football's greatest tournament is looming and despite reports of Brazil struggling to be ready in time for the June 12 kick-off, Gilberto says the excitement in his home country is growing.
"The World Cup is only a few weeks away now and I can tell you that everyone in Brazil is so excited. This is a country that lives for football. Take a walk anywhere in Brazil and you will see kids playing in the streets."
Gilberto was speaking as part of the latest documentary highlighting the work of The Supporters Club, BT Sport’s charitable initiative, which focuses on the Street Child World Cup and The Supporters Club’s backing for charities which sent teams there. The former Arsenal player, who worked in a factory as a youngster, drew parallels between the kids who took part in the tournament in Rio and his own experiences.
"Like many children growing up here I had quite a tough upbringing. My father had to work very hard to support me and my three sisters and every time I took to the field for Brazil I thought about my village, my parents and the streets where I came from because of how hard it had been to get there.
"I can't help but draw comparisons between my situation back in 2002 and the one that these kids taking part in the Street Child World Cup find themselves in now. I don't want to compare my life to theirs because I consider myself very fortunate. Some of these children have had to battle just to survive and be a part of the world but now they have the chance to feel happiness and to dream about the future."
Watch Gilberto discuss his upbringing in an exclusive clip from the documentary...
Gilberto continued: "Sport is so powerful in that way and football especially because it is played and recognised all over the world. To meet and spend time with the kids taking part in the Street Child World Cup was an honour for me and I could see how much the tournament had changed their lives. The football is really only a small part of that though. Yesterday they had nobody who cared about them, today they feel supported by the world. They believe that they could be a doctor or a teacher or whatever they want. Today they have the possibility to dream."
"In 2002 I became a hero in my country and I thank god for the all the gifts I have in my life. There are so many people suffering in the world and you have to help and do whatever you can. Meeting young men like Karthik and Majuto from India and Tanzania was very emotional for me. Their stories really touched me. They are amazing kids who are starting to believe in themselves with the help of the Street Child World Cup and BT's charity initiative The Supporters Club."
Gilberto Silva's Road to Rio airs on 5 May on BT Sport 1 at 10.15pm
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