Youngsters from a slum in Sao Paulo have thrown down a World Cup gauntlet: they have challenged the winners to play a match against them.
With support from an NGO called Techo, the players from Anita Futbol Club, in the Anita Garibaldi slum, issued their cheeky invite to whichever team lifts the trophy on July 13.
They want the professionals to see for themselves their favela, or slum, whose tumbledown housing has no water supplies or connection to the electricity grid.
Local youngsters play here—the favela is named after the Brazilian wife of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi—until after nightfall.
One of them, playing barefoot, gives the ball a big thwack on the dusty surface which serves as a pitch, while another stretches out on the goal netting as if it were a hammock.
Their teammates practise crosses and ultra-ambitious shots on goal as they try to emulate the idols they have so far only seen on television, but want to meet in the flesh.
Residents moved into the district 13 years ago but the community is one where tough reality bites hard, leaving them to live on dreams of what might be. They have survived around half a dozen attempts by the authorities to remove them.
About 3,000 families live in the slum; the jets that fly in and out of Sao Paulo’s international airport provide constant company—and a reminder of the world beyond their ramshackle homes that they may never see.
“When we arrived in 2001 the terrain was dotted with eucalyptus trees. All we have is what we have created with our hands, not machines,” says Elvis Vieira, a 32-year-old DJ and community leader.
“Hey, padrinho (godfather)!” calls out one of the youngsters still playing. He and his teammates look up to Vieira as one of those who instigated “Desafio Anita” (Anita challenge), a range of social initiatives to improve a community now decked out for the World Cup in Brazilian flags.
“I would like to play Brazil because that way the majority of players would be returning to their roots, the pitches where they learned to play football in this country,” says Anita FC’s proud coach Alexandre Romao, a 35-year-old civil servant.
He says in the dressing room he tries to motivate his players as if he were Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s much-decorated coach. “I’ve embraced this utopian ideal (of challenging the world champions) as I see the boys believe it is going to happen.
“And if they believe it, then so do I,” says Romao, one of the first to arrive in the favela on May 19, 2001. He now lives in a modest house with his wife and daughter, leaving every morning to go to work at 4.30 in the morning.
Renaldo de Oliveira Silva is 20 and was born in the northern region of Bahia. But he came to “Anita” with his brother aged just seven. Wearing a number 14 shirt he says his favorite Brazilian player is the combative Inter Milan midfielder Hernanes.
Despite his cherubic features, Renaldo is already a father, who when not working as a mechanic at the airport spends as much time as he can playing for “Anita.”
“Life here is calm, football is our entertainment, the centre of our lives. We always get together on the pitch after work and at weekends to play and chat,” he laughs.
Pitchside and with her arms crossed, Adenaclay Goncalves dos Santos watches training. She is 29 years old but her face bears the scars of someone who has had to endure a constant struggle to keep her head above water.
“I live here because I had nowhere to go and managed to buy myself a plot of land,” she says. At 16, Adenaclay, dressed in Brazilian canary yellow, embarked upon a three-day bus journey from the northeast, eventually arriving in Sao Paulo. There, she met her husband and they had a son. Now she has a stable job as a cleaner at Guarulhos.
Adenaclay says she’d love nothing more than for the world champions to accept the challenge to come to the favela and play the locals—her son is also on the team. “God willing it will really happen. They deserve it, they’ve made a real effort.
“Here, making something of your life is a daily battle. It’s much more difficult than winning the World Cup.” - AFP