Scotland

Goals and smiles as Glasgow hosts the 2016 Homeless World Cup

Netherlands v Kyrgyzstan Homeless World Cup

A specially built city centre football arena has been treated to a tournament of rain, sun, goals and smiles as Glasgow hosts the 14th Homeless World Cup.

More than 500 men and women from 52 countries around the world are competing in four-a-side matches between 10 and 15 July.

And city shoppers, workers and visitors have descended on George square to take in some of the 416 matches.

Image caption First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cheers from the stands alongside the Homeless World Cup President Mel Young (on her left)

Over the course of the week crowds are expected to reach 100,000, with Nicola Sturgeon even taking time out of her busy schedules to cheer from the sidelines.

The first minister said the Homeless World Cup would energise and engage people who, for whatever reason, have become socially excluded.

I took in Wednesday's matches and the heavy showers did nothing to dampen the player's spirits with a glut of goals. Spectators donned ponchos in the stands and gathered around the big screen to watch Scotland's women defeat the USA 11-1.

Image caption England narrowly see off Argentina, winning 3-2 as crowds exchange friendly chants in the rain

In the opposite stand, Argentina and England fans exchanged some friendly chants as England's women narrowly saw off their opponents, winning 3-2.

Office workers gathered at the windows of the square's surrounding buildings to watch the action. Men and women who are used to going unnoticed in everyday life have been thrust into the limelight as they represent their respective nations in their bid to become Homeless World Cup champions.

In typical Scottish fashion we were treated to a complete change in weather conditions on Thursday, with matches kicking off in glorious sunshine. And fans seemed to be taking advantage as crowds gathered in bigger numbers than the day before.

Party atmosphere

Families arrived with young football fans in their favourite team colours.

David Henderson, 74, from Cumbernauld, had his two grandchildren with him who are aspiring footballers themselves. Mr Henderson said it was great to see everyone out and integrating with each other.

"This is my second time here. I was here on Tuesday and as soon as I said to my grandkids they wanted to come," he said. "The atmosphere is good and it shows you the people from Glasgow just all integrate and get wired in."

The atmosphere was certainly lively as workers on their lunch break began to drift into George Square to take in one of the 14-minute matches.

James, 33, from London, is in Glasgow on business this week and had no idea the Homeless World Cup was taking place until he was walking past and decided to take in Wales v Australia.

He said: "It is fantastic. What a party. Everyone is just really happy and chilled."

There were plenty of goals in the match with Wales running out eventual 7-3 winners.

Image caption Ireland eventually defeated Northern Ireland on penalties after Thursday's lunchtime clash ended 4-4

As lunchtime approached the stands began to fill for Ireland v Northern Ireland. Fans were not left disappointed as this tight affair finished 4-4.

Matches ending in a draw are decided by penalties - players dribble towards the goalkeeper unopposed before taking their shot on goal. Ireland ran out eventual winners of the game scoring two penalties to one.

The Homeless World Cup was co-founded by Mel Young, who also co-founded the Big Issue and is the chairman of Sportscotland. He said the players from around the world have been warmly welcomed by team Scotland and the people of Glasgow.

"Our players are remarkable ambassadors for humanity, they are facing some of the toughest life challenges, and in their own way dealing with them," he said.

"We hope spectators will continue to come out in their numbers as the competition reaches it's climax over the next couple of days."

Image copyright Homeless World Cup

Scotland are bidding to be crowned world champions for the third time having previously won the cup in both 2007 and 2011.

The Scotland squad are selected from the Street Soccer Scotland national football programme which supports socially disadvantaged men and women.

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is the national ambassador for the organisation which has also helped to provide reserve players to other national teams who have lost squad members through injury.

Scotland's players are picked by team manager and former Rangers star Ally Dawson, 58, who first became involved in the Homeless World Cup when it began in Graz, Austria in 2003. He said his players were getting a great deal out of the event and that it was a great opportunity for them to learn about different cultures.

The former player, who was capped for Scotland five times, said there was a "buzz about the place" and that everyone had been friendly and was getting behind the team.

"People see how good Glasgow is and how open and friendly it is and everyone has a smile on their face," he added.

Dawson says the commitment and work rate of the players has been fantastic and that they believe in one another and work well together.

At the moment, Scotland's men sit third in Group A with the woman's team sitting second and one point behind leaders Kyrgyzstan in Group B.

They will have to continue their impressive run of form as tournament favourites Mexico top their groups in both men's and women's tournaments. The finals will be played on Saturday.

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