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Soccer fields are everywhere in Rio

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Soccer fields, Rio
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Soccer fields are everywhere in Rio
In this Tuesday, June 3, 2014 photo, kids play soccer at the Cantagalo slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio de Janeiro might be best known for its white sandy beaches and dramatic rocky outcroppings, but soccer pitches are just as ubiquitous a part of the World Cup city’s landscape. The Two Brothers Mountain and Ipanema neighborhood are seen at top left. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this Sunday, June 1, 2014 photo, kids play soccer at the Sao Carlos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the slums, soccer is not only a favorite pastime but is also seen as a way of helping keep kids on the straight and narrow and out of the clutches of the drug trafficking gangs that operate there. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this Sunday, June 1, 2014 photo, youth play soccer in the Sao Carlos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Whether professional-grade or improvised, in high-rent neighborhoods or tucked into “favela” hillside slums, soccer fields are literally everywhere throughout this chaotic metropolis of 12 million. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, people play soccer in the Flamengo neighborhood, backdropped by Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In Flamengo, the sprawling park overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain where several Olympic events are to be held during the 2016 games, towering streetlights illuminate much-disputed fields all through the night and matches take place at two, three, four o’clock in the morning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this June 6, 2014 photo, people play soccer at the Dona Marta slum, backdropped by the Christ the Redeemer statue and Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. City - or charity - run “escolinhas,” or soccer schools, operate in nearly all of the slums, from the Dona Marta shantytown, which is ensconced in the middle-class Botafogo neighborhood, to Mangueira, a historic slum overlooking the mythical Maracana Stadium, where six World Cup matches plus the final are to be held. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, people play soccer at the Tavares Bastos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Whether professional-grade or improvised, in high-rent neighborhoods or tucked into “favela” hillside slums, soccer fields are literally everywhere throughout this chaotic metropolis of 12 million. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this Wednesday, June 4, 2014 photo, two boys watch kids play soccer at the Mangueira slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Between the kids’ soccer schools and the adults who cap their workdays with a “pelada,” or informal match, competition for fields is stiff, particularly in the late afternoons and evenings. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Soccer fields are everywhere in Rio de Janeiro. Whether professional-grade expanses of grass or improvised rectangles of dirt and rocks, they're found in high-rent neighborhoods and tucked into "favela" hillside slums of this chaotic city of 12 million people that is one of the World Cup host cities.

In the slums, soccer is not only a favorite pastime but is seen as a way of helping keep kids out of the clutches of drug gangs. City- or charity-run "escolinhas," or soccer schools, operate in nearly all of the slums, from the Dona Marta shantytown ensconced in the middle-class Botafogo neighborhood to Mangueira, a historic favela overlooking mythical Maracana Stadium, where six World Cup matches plus the final are to be held.

Between the kids' soccer schools and the adults who cap off their workdays with a "pelada," or informal match, competition for fields is stiff, particularly in the late afternoons and evenings.

In Aterro do Flamengo, a sprawling park near Sugarloaf Mountain, towering streetlights illuminate much disputed fields where matches take place all through the night and into the wee hours, often at 2, 3 or 4 a.m.

A proper field is a real luxury that most of Rio's soccer fanatics have to do without, playing anywhere they can find a sufficiently large, flat surface.

In the Pavaozinho slum, sandwiched between two of Brazil's most expensive neighborhoods, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, barefoot kids take over the concrete of an irregularly shaped passageway. Similar scenes play out in the nearby Cantagalo slum, where boys hone their skills on a sliver of concrete in the shadow of Ipanema beach's iconic Dois Irmaos rock formation.

Beaches, mountains and soccer fields - that's Rio.

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