World Cup brings village community closer

SAMARA, Russia, July 1 (Reuters) - Dimitri Strazhkov dreams about becoming a professional player with CSKA Moscow and one day being called up to play for Russia's national team.

The 15 year-old and other boys of all ages train every day at a small soccer field in the village of Aleksandrovka that was built only five years ago as a present from the town of Samara.

Located in the heart of a village with about 1,500 inhabitants, and under the watchful eye of a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin, it serves the community as both an outlet for the teenagers to express themselves and as a meeting place for residents old and young.

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World Cup brings village community closer
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World Cup brings village community closer

A children's playground stands in front of a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018.

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Paintings decorate the ceiling of a newly constructed Russian Orthodox church in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018.

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Children kick soccer balls as they warm-up in front of the statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A newly constructed Russian Orthodox church is seen at sunset in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Goal post stands in an overgrown soccer field in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Irina Aleekseva skins a chicken in her yard in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Traditional decorated windows are seen on a home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A man carries a small dog on his shoulder as he enters a home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Irina Aleekseva sits on her bed as she watches the Soccer World Cup game between France and Argentina in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Farmers sit on top of a wagon stacked with hay as it is pulled by a horse at sunset in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

An old army jeep is parked outside a home at sunset in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia, June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Gas pipes and chairs stand in front of a home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A large toy bear sits outside a shed in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A farmer holding a television remote waves from the front gate of his home during half-time of the Soccer World Cup game between France and Argentina in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia, June 30, 2018.

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Irina Aleekseva uses a stick to move geese into their pen in front of her home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A letter box adorns the front fence of the home of Irina Aleekseva in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia, June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Irina Aleekseva pulls a goat out of her vegetable patch at the back of her home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Children play soccer on a pitch next to a school in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia, June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Irina Aleekseva checks the honey in the bee hives at the back of her home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A gas bottle stands out in front of a home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

An outdoor toilet stands in a field in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A newly constructed Russian Orthodox church stands behind an old church in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

A statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin stands in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

Irina Aleekseva prepares a meal in the kitchen of her home in the village of Alexandrovka, Russia June 29, 2018. 

(REUTERS/David Gray)

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For the kids in the village, the soccer field is at the center of many of their close-knit relationships.

"We call each other, we text on social media and knock on each other's door. Then we agree on a time to come to the soccer field," Strazhkov told Reuters on Saturday.

On the field, the players try to emulate the skills of their heroes on television.

The host nation's early success in the tournament has only amplified the status of popular players such as Aleksandr Golovin or Igor Akinfeev. But the foreign talents on display, including those of Russia’s next opponents Spain, have also inspired the children of Aleksandrovka.

"My favorite foreign players are Zlatan Ibrahimovic, because he is very technical and powerful, and Spain's Fernando Torres, but as he is very, very old, I prefer Sergio Ramos," said Dimitri Maklakov.

Despite wearing a Spain T-shirt, Maklakov was certain Russia would win when the two sides met in the last 16 on Sunday.

Dimitri Terentyev, whose son Denis is a regular on the village pitch, says soccer runs in the blood.

"His grandfather, his four brothers and my brother and I as well played football, and now Denis does as well," he said.

"And I hope my youngest will soon be playing as well."

Yet for some, the World Cup is the very first time some villagers have encountered soccer.

Pensioner Irina Aleekseva, who lives alone in an old wooden house, says she has been reading soccer magazines and watching the news to learn about the game and engage with her grandchildren who visit her at the weekend to help run her farm.

"My grandchildren motivate me as they ask questions all the time, and they support the team and ask me to watch the matches with them," she says as the family gather to watch France play Argentina on the television.

"I should be a modern grandmother and know who the stars like Ronaldo or Messi are."

(Reporting by Elena Gyldenkerne; Writing by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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