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Rio – Just Look At Those Smiles

“It’s all about showing that you care about them. Just look at those smiles and we’ve not even started to kick the beach soccer ball around,” said Joaquin Alonso, who prepared a series of drills with the boys and girls exclusively for the one-hour beach soccer clinic. The group was broken up and assigned to four different stations by their illustrious mentors, each of them featuring a particular technical exercise: carrying the ball, passing it in the air, acrobatic shots on goal and piggy in the middle. The groups swapped around every five minutes. “It’s away of teaching some valuable aspects of teamwork and organisation while amusing them with what they love the most. I wish I was able to read their minds and get to know what each of them is thinking right now,” commented Alonso while watching the second part of the session, a half-hour kick-about that made competitiveness blossom and evidenced the talent of boys and girls alike.
A samba school drummer, a fledgling TV star after playing a part in City of Men (a spin-off from the smash-hit Brazilian film City of God) and top striker for her local club in Chapeu Mangueira, which goes by the name of Paris Saint-Germain – 13-year-old Luene Benita da Silva is just one shining example of the richness of humanity that can be found in an underprivileged community, just waiting to flourish through sport. “When I am not playing for PSG or with my friends close to home, we come down to the beach to play beach soccer,” said flashy-eyed Luene. “And I don’t mind facing the boys — Marta started like that, playing against them. I will have an opportunity and play just like her.”
This may sound naive, but it is merely the consequence of previous breakthroughs that children like Luene have witnessed in Rio de Janeiro. Benjamin, for example, now one of the world’s marquee beach soccer players, was born and raised in the community of Chapeu Mangueira. Indeed, Luene often plays with his son. Then there is Daniel Souza, the most recent feel-good story in the country’s history of producing footballing artists bred on nothing but passion for the game, who is now one of Brazil’s rising stars and already a fan favourite.