RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The field is just dirt and the incandescent lights aren't that bright.
But when the boys' feet strike the ball in the Sao Carlos slum as night falls every Saturday, big league dreams glow, inflated by the hope of escaping the shantytown's squalor with sporting skills.
With the Confederations Cup opening this week and the World Cup one year away, all eyes are on Brazil, where soccer is arguably played with more passion and art than anywhere else.
Rodrigues Pereira has spent the last three decades training kids in Sao Carlos, where he's universally known as Diboi. For four hours every Tuesday and Thursday he runs practices for up to 120 kids; Saturdays are when full games are played, including an annual championship.
He would never discourage the daydreams his pupils harbor of one day playing professionally, but he's more focused on what soccer gives his young charges now.
"This keeps the boys busy, keeps them out of trouble," Diboi said. "I've even taken some kids out of the drug gangs. These are boys who have very little else, but here they have a chance to train their bodies and minds. It's building better citizens."
The scene on Diboi's field repeats itself around Rio.
There is seemingly no end to the ingenuity shantytown kids use to carve out a space where they can play within slums that climb right up mountainsides that surround the city.
Chain-link fences often box in the pitch, keeping errant balls in play.
In some places, barefoot children sprint on artificial grass installed by the city government or non-governmental organizations whose social projects focus on the sport.
Everywhere, it's the same: soccer providing hours of sweat, smiles, and hopes that this beloved sport will carry its players away.