Brazil's World Cup legends visit Rio slums to promote education through soccer

Far away from the madding World Cup crowd, former Brazilian football stars joined forces Thursday with FIFA to promote education for disadvantaged youngsters through the sport.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke joined world champions and World Cup ambassadors Bebeto and Cafu at Complexo de Muquico, a slum area in the northern Rio suburb of Guadalupe to back Bola Pra Frente, a charity project for some 1500 local children.

Jorginho, a member of Brazil's 2004 World Cup-winning squad, created the project in 2000 for children aged six to 17 and around 50 rushed to show off their skills.

In return, Valcke, who last year caused a furore in suggesting Brazil needed a 'kick up the backside' regarding preparations for June's World Cup, made an admirable attempt at some samba as Bebeto and Jorginho backed him up on drums.

"What football can bring is hope," said Valcke as former Bayern Munich and Kashima Antlers star Jorginho showed him around the facilities of Bola Pra Frente -- Portuguese for ball forward.

Part of the structures comprise material recycled from the London Olympics and put in place by residents of Muquico, where Jorginho grew up and where now he seeks to form "active, healthy and responsible citizens".

As teenagers engaged in mini-matches, younger children looked up wide-eyed as 1994 skipper Cafu, Jorginho, Bebeto and Valcke put their heads round the door of a makeshift classroom.

There, a teacher warming to the soccer-related theme by wielding red and yellow cards was teaching her charges to spell various football-related words.

On the wall a poster read: "Craque de Bola e de Escola" (a star turn on the ball and at school, while the legend on the Bola Pra Frente bus outside borrowed Nelson Mandela's words to transmit the message: "Sport has the power to change the world."

"We want to use this opportunity to move forward, to transform children by giving them life opportunities," said Jorginho as he welcomed Valcke, who responded by saying FIFA was donating $200,000 with a view to an eventual total investment in the project of $1 million.

Valcke said the investment was a part of 108 football-related social development programmes worldwide -- 25 in Brazil -- to which FIFA will this year contribute $3.1 million as part of the organization's Football for Hope initiative.

"Here we are translating what football can do for the world, how it can transform lives," Valcke said before dispatching a penalty past a young Brazilian goalkeeper.

"We must use football as an educational tool -- kids are the future of the world," added the Frenchman, who was later to give FIFA's assessment on preparations as he winds down a visit marked by Tuesday's threat to drop Curitiba from the World Cup host city list.

In July, during the final week of the World Cup, FIFA will organize a Football for Hope Festival in Rio de Janeiro for teams of young community leaders from around the world and Valcke said in March the organization will unveil details of what legacy it hopes to see left in Brazil after the tournament.