Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 13:28 UK

Nicaraguan children eye football glory

By Nick Caistor

Every day, Victor is out football training in the centre of Managua.

Victor,13, in goal
Victor is confident of getting into the side to play in South Africa

Like many, he dreams of representing his country, the small Central American nation of Nicaragua, in South Africa next year.

But Victor will not be playing for an adult team in the Fifa World Cup due to start in June next year.

Instead, he hopes to travel with his team-mates to the city of Durban in March 2010 to take part in the street children's version of the tournament.

Like many thousands of young children in Managua, Victor's family is too poor to support him, and at 13, he has lived on the streets off and on for years.

Now he is one of some 50 children who have been taken in by the charity Casa Alianza.

In several Central American countries, Casa Alianza is dedicated to looking after children unable to live at home because of problems of poverty or family violence.

[It's] a great opportunity to show everyone that they are not just dirty, scruffy children who bother you at traffic lights
Eneyda Lira
Casa Alianza

In Casa Alianza they are given board and lodging and taught a profession - usually baking or mechanics, before they are either allowed back to their families or given financial and moral support to live independently.

Eneyda Lira is in charge of the daily programmes organised for the children while they are living in Casa Alianza. She is full of enthusiasm for the football project.

"We think this street children's World Cup is a great opportunity to show everyone that they are not just dirty, scruffy children who bother you at traffic lights or are seen sniffing glue under bridges," she says.

"Playing football gives them a sense of their own worth - and shows that the game is not just for the great footballers of the world."

Mixed teams

Casa Alianza Nicaragua is joining other teams worldwide, from the Philippines to Brazil, to compete against each other.

Boys playing in Managua
Football teaches the children discipline, coach Julio Cesar Membreno says

The Street Children's World Cup is being organised by the Amos Trust and a group of other charities.

It has the backing in England of football stars such as Gary Lineker, while Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, is one of the sponsors.

Unlike the professional game, the street children's teams will be mixed.

Cristina is a 15-year-old who has been living in Casa Alianza for almost six months.

She is reluctant to say what brought here there, apart from "family problems".

"I've enjoyed playing football since I was little," says Cristina. "What I most like is scoring goals."

But she is not too worried if she does not get to play in South Africa.

"What I really want to do when I leave the Casa," she says, "is to set up my own bakery."

The teams are being trained every day by Julio Cesar Membreno, who has been seconded to Casa Alianza from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Sports.

"We've been playing every day since February," he says.

The girls' team with a trophy they won
The girls' side has already tasted success on the field

"It's good because it teaches them discipline, and to play together as a team. The best thing about them is how quick and resilient they are."

The girls have seen their first reward - they proudly display the cup they have just won in a local league, where they play at weekends.

Now they and the boys have to compete with each other to see if they can make it into the final team that will be going to South Africa in a few months' time.

Victor is the youngest and smallest of the boys, but as he trains barefoot in the walled concrete yard of Casa Alianza, he is confident he will make the final selection.

"I can run faster than all the rest of them," he says simply.

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