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Nine north London girls coached by Arsenal in the Community represented their country at the Street Child World Cup in Brazil this month.

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The girls, from New Horizon Youth Centre, Kings Cross, helped England to the last eight of the tournament, held in Rio de Janeiro – one of the host cities for this summer’s FIFA World Cup.

England lost their first game to Mozambique 3-1, but a 0-0 draw with Nicaragua was enough to send them through to the quarter-finals, where they lost 6-0 to eventual runners-up, The Philippines.

But the tournament – in which 230 boys and girls from 19 countries took part – was not just about football. The aim was to get governments and corporations to invest in the protection of vulnerable children around the world.

All the participants of the Street Child World Cup have signed a petition calling for Brazil to adopt a national policy to protect vulnerable children, which will be delivered to the country’s government in June.

Arsenal in the Community’s Jack Ferguson, who coached the England girls, said: “For me, the football is secondary to the skills they’ve learnt in Brazil and will learn back in England.

“It’s all about supporting these young people in the next stage of their development.”

The girls also got the chance to visit famous Rio landmarks, including the famous Christ the Redeemer statue which overlooks the city, as well the Maracanã Stadium, the venue for July’s World Cup final.

A selection of players from each country also visited the Church of Our Lady of the Candelaria, where they paid their respects to eight street children who were murdered right next to the church 21 years ago.

The event was especially poignant because the captain of the Brazil boys’ team was himself shot and killed only a week before the Street Child World Cup – something that deeply affected and united everyone taking part.

According to England striker Sherelle Joseph, the tournament brought the team much closer together – and also enabled them to forge close relationships with some of the other teams, in particular Zimbabwe and Indonesia.

“When we came here we were just friends,” she said. “Now we feel like a family, because we treat each other like sisters.

“You can meet anyone from around the world who doesn’t even speak your language and still make friends.”

England won the award for friendliest team at the tournament and two of the girls have decided to return to Brazil on their gap year, as well as beginning a partnership with the Kenyan team to fundraise for a trip to Africa.

Striker Chloe Delaney, meanwhile, a lifelong Gunners fan, has set her sights on achieving a place in the starting line-up at Arsenal Ladies in the future.

The girls have clearly been inspired – so it looks as if the legacy of the Street Child World Cup has already begun.

n Follow Benjie on Twitter @benjieguy and read his blog at benjienobrasil.wordpress.com

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