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Jun 14, 2018 07:15 PM IST | Economy

Soccer: For a brief moment, goalscorers forget poverty and war

The eyes of the world will turn to Russia this week for the World Cup but it is far away you must look to find the sport's beating heart -- on war-ravaged streets and in poverty-stricken slums where the simple act of scoring a goal transcends the grind of everyday life.

For every goal celebrated by the 32-teams at the four-yearly gathering of soccer's superstars, thousands more will be scored on makeshift pitches in Yemen, Somalia and Gaza and beyond.

They will not be recorded for posterity and replayed thousands of times over. But they will not be forgotten and the scorer, for a few minutes at least, can dream of being a hero.

"My favourite player is (Argentina's Lionel) Messi. When I score a goal I feel happy and successful, I'm pleased that my team mates are also happy with me," 14-year-old Mohammed Ali Kargbo said after scoring a goal in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

In the four years since FIFA's extravaganza was played out across Brazil, soccer's governing body has been dogged by corruption scandals provoking accusations from fans that the 'beautiful game' has been poisoned by greed.

The month-long tournament in Russia is officially costing an eye-watering 683 billion roubles ($11 billion). Many of the players are millionaires many times over.

Dreams cost nothing, though. Try telling 12-year-old Aoud Moustafa, who plays with his friends in Syria's Zaizon refugee camp in Deraa that soccer has lost its soul.

"When I score I feel very happy and I also feel that I am stronger and faster than my friends," he said after a game on a dusty patch of earth.

The World Cup will be played in 12 ultra-modern stadiums across Russia, most newly-built with sums of money that would be truly life-changing for millions of vulnerable people across Africa and the Middle East.

Yet access to a ball and a goal, be it a couple of chunks of masonry, two twisted sticks in the desert or a the remains of a bombed-out building can provide a 'theatre of dreams' -- a refuge from the horrors of armed conflict or the daily struggle of a life lived in the most challenging circumstances.

For one young boy playing in the playground of a bomb-damaged school in Benghazi, Libya, the simple act of scoring a goal represents a homecoming of sorts -- the chance of a return to some semblance of normality

"I feel joyful because I am playing in my own area, which I have been unable to do for more than three years because of the war," he said.

Remi Bamba scores a goal during a football match in a street of a neighborhood in Abidjan, Ivory Coast May 21, 2018. Remi said
Remi Bamba scores a goal during a football match in a street of a neighborhood in Abidjan, Ivory Coast May 21, 2018. Remi said "I am a king when I score". REUTERS/Luc Gnago/Files
Gassim Osman, 13, scores a goal as children play football on the street near houses in Khartoum, Sudan May 14, 2018. Gassim said
Gassim Osman, 13, scores a goal as children play football on the street near houses in Khartoum, Sudan May 14, 2018. Gassim said "I wish to play soccer with the Bayern Munich football team". REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Files
Omarbah scores a goal with a deflated ball as boys play football in the ACI 2000 neighborhood of Bamako, Mali May 12, 2018.
Omarbah scores a goal with a deflated ball as boys play football in the ACI 2000 neighborhood of Bamako, Mali May 12, 2018. "When I score a goal, I feel like Cristiano Ronaldo", said Omarbah. REUTERS/Annie Risemberg/Files
Mohammed, 13, celebrates scoring his goal in front of his house in the old streets of Casablanca, Morocco, April 28, 2018. He said
Mohammed, 13, celebrates scoring his goal in front of his house in the old streets of Casablanca, Morocco, April 28, 2018. He said "Whenever I score a goal I feel like a famous soccer player from Barcelona or Raja team". REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/Files
A player scores a goal during a training session by soccer teams from the Nima Community in Kanda, a neighborhood of Accra, Ghana May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/Files
A player scores a goal during a training session by soccer teams from the Nima Community in Kanda, a neighborhood of Accra, Ghana May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/Files
Adnan, 11, (C) celebrates scoring a goal in front of his house in the old streets of Casablanca, Morocco April 28, 2018.
Adnan, 11, (C) celebrates scoring a goal in front of his house in the old streets of Casablanca, Morocco April 28, 2018. "Every time I score a goal I feel like I just realised a dream playing with my favorite team" he said. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/Files
Jean-Christ, 11, celebrates his goal during a football game in an area of Riviera-Palmeraie in Abidjan, Ivory Coast May 28, 2018. Jean-Christ said after scoring his goal
Jean-Christ, 11, celebrates his goal during a football game in an area of Riviera-Palmeraie in Abidjan, Ivory Coast May 28, 2018. Jean-Christ said after scoring his goal "I love football and I will be the future Cristiano Ronaldo". REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon/Files
Dvir Gelman, 12, passes the ball as he plays with other Jewish children in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, May 22, 2018.
Dvir Gelman, 12, passes the ball as he plays with other Jewish children in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, May 22, 2018. "When I scored the goal I felt I was helping my teammate and it was fun!", Gelman said after the game. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Files
A Saudi boy plays football with a camel in a village south of the city of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hwaity/Files
A Saudi boy plays football with a camel in a village south of the city of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hwaity/Files
A soccer player celebrates scoring a goal on a beach in Casablanca, Morocco April 29, 2018. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/Files
A soccer player celebrates scoring a goal on a beach in Casablanca, Morocco April 29, 2018. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/Files
Nassim Ammour, 11, scores a goal as he plays with friends next to the Israeli barrier in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, May 4, 2018.
Nassim Ammour, 11, scores a goal as he plays with friends next to the Israeli barrier in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, May 4, 2018. "I want to be like Ronaldo and to compete like Ronaldo in the world cup tournament", Ammour said after he had finished celebrating. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/Files
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