Russia defeated Kazakhstan 1-0 in the finals of the homeless World Cup soccer trophy after a weeklong tournament in which every player was declared a winner.
Approximately 500 people from 48 nations took part, all sharing a common bond of destitution and marginalization and hoping to use the confidence gained during the street soccer competition to gain a better foothold in society back home.
"This event will absolutely change their perspective on life in so many different ways," organizer Mel Young said. "We can prove that by involving homeless people in sport we have the power to change lives."
Many of the African players, in particular, were orphans or victims of war. Some of the European and North American ones lost their homes after falling out with their families, while others had a history of alcohol and drug abuse.
Russian captain Viacheslav Shelaevsky said he became homeless after moving from his remote village to the city of St. Petersburg, only to find that he didn't have the right papers and wasn't allowed to work. Kazakhstani captain Ergali Kalikov related a similar experience.
"Football helped me save myself in difficult conditions. Football gave me new hope," Shelaevsky said.
"I will never forget these days at the homeless World Cup and the atmosphere of celebration. Finally my dream has come true," he said as his team cruised to 13 straight victories at the tournament.
His sentiments were echoed around the asphalt pitches in downtown Cape Town. The Ugandan and Namibian squads earned rapturous applause as they danced on stage; Swedish players joked with local children; South African players hugged Brazilians.
During the world cup, big-name soccer nations suffered defeats. Uganda defeated Germany 4-0; Afghanistan won 3-2 on penalties against Brazil; and Rwanda downed France 7-3. Two-time champion Italy didn't make the final.