With only one day to go till the greatest show on earth -- the FIFA World Cup -- begins in Russia, the host nation held a miniature world cup with kids from 211 different nations participating in the Football for Friendship event at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow yesterday.
Gazprom, Russia's global energy company and a FIFA partner, orchestrated this initiative to give boys and girls under the age of 12 a taste of the world cup's grandeur as well to help spread values such as friendship, equality, fairness, tradition and honour among youths across the planet through football.
The budding footballers played a five-a-side one-day tournament in the same format as the actual world cup after being separated into 32 teams, named after endangered animals such as the Galapagos sea lion, gharial, cheetah, African elephant, rhinoceros etc, to raise awareness on those species.
Yesterday the Lokomotiv Stadium, home of Russian Premier League champions FC Lokomotiv, was filled with people from all over the world who just wanted to enjoy the tournament irrespective of race, colour or creed. The fact that senior journalists were joined by kids in their duties only added more colour to the extravaganza.
Reporters were seen buzzing around for interviews of the budding footballers and, for all we know, one or two among them might become famous after being inspired by playing on such a rare stage. Bangladesh's Golam Rafi Khan was selected from 150 kids through a trial two months ago and his luck did not just end there as he scored two goals for his side, the Galapagos Sea Lion, which unluckily did not move into the 16-team knockout round as they lost two and won one out of the three qualification matches.
However, Rafi got the experience of a lifetime as the seventh grade student of Madanganj Football Academy in Narayanganj had the chance to play alongside children from China, Liberia, Anguilla, Cyprus, Turks and Caicos Island and Cote d'Ivore after training with them, and others, for three days.
Reaching this stage was not an easy task for Rafi though as his parents once confined him to his house for five days and also disposed of his sports gear in a pond so that he would not be distracted from his studies. Nevertheless, Rafi remained adamant about playing football and was finally rewarded for his efforts when he was called up to represent Bangladesh in the event, just as his older twin brother had last year.
Although Moscow had a couple of firsts for Rafi, boarding an airplane for the first time to visit a foreign land and experience the true spirit of an international congregation, he was hardly excited to get such an experience.
“No, I don't feel anything special though I boarded a plane and came out of (Bangladesh's) boundary for the first time,” said Rafi, who communicated with other players using gestures.
Asked what he would remember most from the tour, Rafi explained: “Playing with other foreign players is something memorable for me. The language of football is one, everyone can understand it. I speak in Bangla and they also speak in their languages but it was not hard to understand.”
Before arriving in Moscow Rafi's father, Basharuddin Khan Ratan, revealed an interesting aspect about his sons, saying: “I think both of them will die if they can't play football. To be honest, they love football more than their parents.”