Some ten weeks before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, the giant country will this week welcome 230 disadvantaged youngsters from around the globe for the Street Child World Cup.
“With 19 countries represented we are becoming an international movement. Things are coming together very well,” organiser Joe Hewitt told AFP ahead of the tournament start in Rio on Sunday.
The teams are due to arrive from Thursday prior to the big kick off when a team of Brazilian boys will meet rivals from Indonesia and local girls will take on counterparts from Egypt.
The tournament comprised of 14-17 year-olds who have experienced homelessness is being held in partnership with global charity Save the Children.
Former England skipper David Beckham is a star patron for an event which first took place in Durban, South Africa in 2010, with India claiming victory.
The run-up to the tournament, which will also comprise an arts festival, was hit by tragedy when violence claimed the life of a player from team Brasil.
Rodrigo Kelton, from the northern city of Fortaleza, was killed last month by drug traffickers on his 14th birthday.
His brother was injured in an attack carried out in apparent retribution for a robbery committed before a charity group encouraged his interest in playing football and leaving crime behind.
Teammates carried Rodrigo’s coffin at his funeral.
In a statement before the teams began heading out to Brazil, Beckham said: “I know from personal experience just what power football can have to inspire and change young people’s lives whatever their background or nationality. This is what the Street Child World Cup is all about and I give it my full support.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson have also endorsed the event, whose motto is “I Am Somebody,” following the Durban declaration of 2010 which heard participants speak of the need to remove the social stigma associated with the term “street child”.
Brazilian legend Pele lent support in reminding youngsters during a visit to a youth tournament in Egypt last month that “I started in the street like you – my family was a poor family in Brazil.”
Hewitt told AFP that prior to the April 6 final organisers plan to show a video highlighting the plight of young refugees from the conflict in Syria.