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Favelas football draws the crowds

20 February 2014, 17:57

Rio de Janeiro -Favelas and football don't always make for happy neighbours.

Rights groups in Brazil say thousands of slum dwellers have been evicted in recent years to make room for pre-World Cup modernisation of Rio, sparking protests.

But sometimes the twain does meet, as shown by the Favelas Cup, a tournament for 64 men's and 16 women's teams.

Vila Kennedy carried off the men's title at the weekend and Cidade de Deus -- whose favela earned global fame in Fernando Meirelles' City of God thriller flick -- triumphed for the women.

Cidade de Deus almost bagged the double but their men were denied in a hard-fought final which saw them go down 3-2 with Lucas Silva netting the winner.

A crowd of more than 2,000 packed the stadium at Madureira in the north of Rio, where local shorts could be bought at the club shop for 30 reais ($12).

Incongruously, Cuba shirts were on offer for 80 reais -- although the shop was shut.

But the result was not everything, as losing women's coach Flavio Almeida, 32, explained.

"Women's sport is looked down upon here in Brazil. It just doesn't generate the money that men's sport does," he told AFP.

"The girls rarely train and many of them are already working by the time they are 17," added Almeida, who said his club, Cabral, played a key role in the players' social development, often providing meals.

As Cidade de Deus celebrated a second win and Vila Kennedy their first on a bumpy pitch in this the third edition of the event, the star of the show was not even in the final.

But Camila Ribeiro, 19, secured a notable achievement as she won the accolade of player of the tournament.

Ribeiro, of beaten semi-finalists Sapo, played in goal and kept a clean sheet only for her team, Sapo, to fall in a penalty shootout to Cabral.

But those exploits are only part of the story for Camila, who took away a golden trophy as she boarded the bus home with her teammates after the final presentations.

Last year, she also picked up plaudits -- but not for her ability in goal.

Instead, she donned her shooting boots, and promptly finished tournament top scorer.

"I've always liked scoring goals but I like playing in goal too," she told AFP.

"By the time this year's tournament came round, the girl who was in goal last time had left our favela. So my coach said, 'would you mind going in goal.'

"I said, fine, and I think I did ok.

"We lost our penalty shootout but I know what it is from both sides -- to take the kick and also to try to psyche out the taker," the brunette smiled.

Like so many favelas, positive headlines are not regular occurrences in Sapo.

Last year, three people died in a dawn shootout in Sapo, in western Rio, as police tried to tackle rival drugs gangs looking to mark out their territory.

Cidade de Deus coach Hud Weidman said football is a vital development tool in the favelas.

"The social importance of the game is not to be understated. It helps, as does sport generally, with education, behavior. I think it's a building block for the future."

- AFP 

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