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RIO DE JANEIRO — When Bryan Macedo da Silva, 7, heard he would be attending the World Cup final, he ran all the way home to tell his mother. “I’m going to the World Cup, I’m going to the World Cup!” he cried. “I didn’t believe him. I thought he was joking,” recalled Urania Gregório de Macedo Silva, 35, this week.
When 9-year-old Matheus Kope Moura was also given two tickets for the sought-after match, his family were offered 10,000 reals ($4,500) for them by a work colleague. “That is the same price as our family home,” said his mother, Paula Kope de Oliveira, 24. “But in the end we were never going to sell them. This is a dream for him.”
Both boys live with their families in Vila Kennedy, a distant favela in the western zone of Rio de Janeiro with a noxious reputation for gang violence and hardship. They were given the opportunity — like 22 of their classmates at their elementary school — in a program to distribute tickets to thousands of poor children across Brazil.
Neither has ever been to the Maracanã, where Argentina will play Germany on Sunday, despite being fans of Flamengo, a Rio club that plays its home matches there.
Bryan, who lives with his mother and brother a few hundreds yards from the Coronel José Gomes Moreira elementary school, has barely even played football.
Sitting in their tight living room, next to an ironing board stacked with clothes, his mother explained: “There are very few football pitches here in Vila Kennedy. And those that exist were often across gang boundaries, making it difficult to just go.
“But that was the least of our problems. When the violence was at its worst, our children could barely walk down the streets. There were shootings almost every day.”
Things have improved with the installation of a pacifying police unit this year that has reduced the dominance of the Red Command gang, which previously ruled the favela and fought ferocious battles with a rival gang in a neighboring community.
She added: “A few weeks ago Bryan came home in tears and told me we were going to see the World Cup. I thought he was talking about seeing a game on the television, and only much later did I discover he had actually been given tickets for the final.
“I jokingly asked him if he wanted to sell the tickets and buy a PlayStation 4. He said no way, he’d much rather go and see the World Cup. But I was just kidding. I would never sell something this special. I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. To see my son happy is priceless. He really wants to go to the match, and so he will go.”
On Sunday, their day will begin at 6:15 a.m., as it usually does. Before breakfast, they will attend a 7 a.m. service at the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) before the long journey to the stadium on bus or metro, which could easily take two hours.
Bryan, a diminutive boy of few words, sits on the sofa between his family members and smiles broadly, clearly delighted at the opportunity. “We were all born and raised in Rio,” his mother said. “But I’ve never been to the Maracanã. One time we were close when we went to a hospital, but we have never been inside.”
Vila Kennedy was inaugurated 50 years ago. A planned community to rehouse those evicted from city-center slums and named after the American president, the social project was based on a partnership between the U.S. and Brazil. Besides the name, the community was also given a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
But like many of Rio’s poorest areas, it became territory for the city’s drug gangs about 30 years ago. In recent years the population, estimated at 100,000, suffered violence that was among the most extreme of any of the favelas.
That meant, despite its distant location, it was given the pacifying police unit unexpectedly early in March, the final favela to be pacified before the World Cup.
Still, gang graffiti and an uneasy air dominate the crisscrossed streets of the community, built on either side of a main road in the city’s west zone.
The entrance to the school is set behind floor-to-ceiling metal bars, but the institution, which has 490 students from the ages of 5 to 12, could not be more welcoming.
Here, 24 children were chosen at random to be given two tickets each for the final. They were among 48,000 to receive World Cup tickets nationwide in a government program.
Inside the main hallway, which is dominated by a dance area, a display marked “Toward the 6th [World Cup win]” is filled with 23 handwritten letters to the national team. “Go Brazil,” Emerson wrote. “Have the best World Cup ever in 2014!”
Principal Marli Rodrigues dos Santos said: “It was a surprise for us and the kids to be selected. Since the beginning of the year, the children have only spoken of the World Cup. The families of nearly all the children who were selected would never have been able to even think about buying the tickets outright. It was a great gift.
"The students are very happy to have won. But we had the challenge of explaining to the others what had happened. Everybody wanted to go, but sadly only 24 can.”
As tickets are very valuable, she held a secret meeting with the parents of the chosen students to make sure they could get the tickets home safely.
For Ana Carolina Gomes, 9, it will be the first time she has ever gone to the city’s main downtown area. She wears two little earrings — one of a yellow flower and one of a Brazilian flag. “I’m excited about seeing so many people,” she said.
When Matheus Kope Moura got his ticket, he was so worried about his friends being envious that he did not tell them. Sitting in his bare breeze-block one-bedroom home, where five members of his family live, in a replica Brazil shirt, he smiled nervously.
The family, whose monthly income is less than 1,000 reals ($450), were offered 10 times that amount for the two tickets. But his mother, a cleaner, turned it down. Neither mother nor son has been in a stadium before.
“Of course, I wanted to see Neymar in the final,” he said. “I wanted to see Brazil. But I will see Messi, and that is pretty close. I’ll take it.”