World Cup 2014: England stars get a round of keep-uppy with Brazilian capoeira kids in favela sports club
The makeshift homes stretch up the mountainside, a breathtaking and poignant backdrop to the sight of a stony-faced Jack Wilshere, mistimedly clapping along as a man in a corporate branded t-shirt bangs a bean filled orb on the end of a long stick.
The world’s media have beaten a merciless path through Rio de Janeiro’s favelas for more than a year now. Brazil, if you didn’t know, has issues around poverty and inequality, and a few days before they jet off to Manaus for their opening game against Italy, a little handful of England’s World Cup squad were despatched to do their bit at a sports club at the foot of Rocinha, one of the city’s better known and in fact reasonably well appointed favelas.
In fact it’s a regeneration project, one of many that will be shoehorned into the world’s consciousness in the coming weeks.
A hundred yards or so round the mountain sits a bright whitewashed Ibiza style apartment.
Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck were more willing participants in the capoeira session - Brazil’s traditional martial arts / dance hybrid - that preceded the obligatory kid-filled kickabout.
Sturridge’s glutes are loose indeed - a welcome sight - as he lifted a rangy leg over the crouching head of a beaming teenager.
Welbeck backed off from engaging with a particularly menacing looking chap of about nine, as his legs windmilled around a yard from his face in the afternoon sun.
Whatever the faults of football, it is truly a meritocracy, talentwise, and England’s players know better than anyone the unimaginable riches footballing talent can bring.
“When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was play football,” said Wilshere. “And these kids, because they’ve got this pitch, they can do that.”
The pitch, it must be noted, is treacherous, the astro turf lifting like a moth eaten carpet along its seams, which also serve as the pitch markings. None of England’s five attendees - Fraser Foster and Adam Lallana were also there - took part, and quite right too.
But they did join in the warm-up keepy uppy, at which the young Brazilians were by no means outclassed by their rather better financially lubricated guests.
When it came to the match, the kids passed, moved and control with a seemingly biological fluidity that probably didn’t go unnoticed in the England ranks.
"We trained with the beach and ocean backdrop today and we come here and it's a different backdrop but one that's great to experience," said Lallana. "The kids are quite unbelievable, they have all got massive smiles on their faces - just to make their days is massive for us. And it's good to be able to give something back. We are based on the beach where we only see the lovely waves and the sea. to come out to the favela and the hills seems a different side of it, you get the experience of Brazil as a whole."
It is, of course, all utterly contrived, but such are the gentle jovial hoops all World Cup squads jump through in these rarefied days in the anticipation of great deeds, knowing with bittersweet certainty that triumph or disaster waits.
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