In Rio's favelas, soccer more than just a kid's game

Elaine Quijano reports from Rio de Janeiro
Elaine Quijano reports from Rio de Janeiro 02:56

In the poor neighborhood of Vidigal, not far from Rio's World Cup stadium, children have their sights set on a goal.

Kids dream about being famous soccer players, reports CBS News' Elaine Quijano.

"I want to have a lot of fans, I want to have a nice house," one young player said.

Paulo Bento understands that passion. He runs an after-school program that reaches out to kids through soccer.

"It's everything. The children love soccer, they breathe soccer. Soccer for them is everything," he said.

Bento's program serves about 600 kids from Vidigal who come to play the game they love on a concrete soccer pitch. They also receive tutoring, health care and counseling all as part of his program.

"We are a team that talks about everything," Bento said.

By some estimates, more than 20,000 people live in this favela, or poor community, high above Rio, up narrow, winding roads and down small alleys.

Drug lords used to run the neighborhood, but three years ago, the government flooded the streets with police officers. It was part of a coordinated effort across Rio called pacification, aimed at making favelas safer.

As the World Cup approached, those efforts intensified.

Today, residents of Vidigal still face poverty, poor schools and inadequate health care, but crime has gone down and the streets are safer for programs like this one.

The children might dribble towards World Cup dreams, but Bento believes soccer is the vehicle for his real message.

"We think that football can bring values," Bento said. "Football is a huge 'net' to bring these kids to the right side."