The Football for Hope Festival 2014 in Caju came to a close on Thursday, but not without an exciting and dramatic finish that had everyone, including two-time FIFA World Cup™ winner Cafu, on the edge of their seats. After the festival’s programme of cultural and educational activities during the first five days wrapped up on 6 July, the football tournament started on Monday and concluded yesterday. It was clear – from the first match through the final – despite the high stakes and pressure that comes with the final day of any tournament, fair play and sportsmanship were the top two priorities on Thursday, and those values left everyone in the Vila Olimpica Mane Garrincha smiling throughout a fun-filled day.

Once the football tournament concluded with Cape Verde’s Delta Culture Cabo Verde narrowly edging French side Sport dans la Ville 1-0 in the final, an energetic closing ceremony brought the ten-day event in the Rio de Janeiro favela to an inspiring and passionate end despite sporadic rain requiring a move indoors. The wet weather did nothing to dampen the spirits of the 32 participating delegations, which were eager to celebrate with each other after receiving their medals. Speaking after the closing ceremony, FIFA Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Federico Addiechi, who helped congratulate the 32 teams from 27 different nations on a job well done, reflected on an event that “went extremely well."

"It exceeded all of our expectations in terms of the experience we have created for youngsters to come together from around the world and compare notes on how their respective organisations are using football to tackle some of the pressing issues that they face in their communities," Addiechi added. “It’s been an amazing opportunity for them, but they have been based no their great leadership potential and their ability to contribute to the content of this festival.

"We wanted them not just to have fun – they went to watch Germany-France at the Maracana and they visited the Sugarloaf – but also to have a good opportunity to exchange and learn through workshops and interaction with peers from other parts of the world.

 “It is these learnings that will help them continue to build a better future in their home communities.”

Inspiring scenes
Although the desire to win was evident in the passion and determination exhibited throughout the day, the level of respect for the game and opposing teams were the most prominent – and inspiring – features on the two football pitches. Teams would celebrate goals scored by the other team as if they were their own, while missed shots, good saves and clever touches were all met with applause and encouragement from everyone involved.

During the hard-fought second semi-final between Delta Culture Cabo Verde and Colombia’s Alianza Colombia, the Cape Verde side’s No7 scored the only goal of the match with only a few minutes remaining. When his team-mates joined him in a co-ordinated dance to celebrate the occasion, their South American opposition immediately joined in the festivities while the goalkeeper congratulated the goal-scorer. The first semi-final, which featured runners-up Sport dans la Ville and Starfinder, the delegation from the USA, went to penalties. The French side ultimately won after five dramatic rounds, but every save - and even the goal that sent the Europeans through to the final – was met with applause and encouragement from the other side. Even the teams who had finished playing joined the celebrations, and one member of Australia’s Football United jokingly told Sport dans la Ville, “If you win (the final) I’ll give you a kangaroo!”

Before the semi-finals kicked off, the 32 delegations were treated to a demonstration of blind-football by some of Brazil’s most experienced and talented players. Starfinder goalkeeper Erick Cerrada, who was one of the youngsters who gave blind-football a try, was amazed at how talented the blind or partially sighted players were. “I couldn’t believe how they were doing all of their tricks!” he said with a big grin after he lifted his blindfold and noticed his opponents’ abilities.

Cafu, who kicked off the final match, told FIFA.com his thoughts on the impact of the Football for Hope Festival 2014. “The meaning of this tournament is incredible,” the former Brazilian international said. “The opportunity for these children to interact with those from other countries and many cultures, it’s simply incredible to see.

“Today, here, they have an opportunity to change their lives for the future. Football for Hope is an initiative that can help change the lives of the kids who come from underprivileged communities. It creates opportunities for them and the participants must embrace them.”

It was clear the 192 delegation members, all of whom came organisations supported by Football for Hope around the world, understood the opportunity and privilege they had been given at the Football for Hope Festival 2014.  The values and life skills imparted on them during an incredible ten days in Caju have put them in good stead to further the positive impact their organisations are having back home.