Thangamuniyandi never went to school. He was forced by his mother to work at construction sites since childhood, beaten up when he begged for respite and left home in frustration, a year ago.

Today, the 16-year-old is a proud defender in the football team that will represent India at the Street Child World Cup (SCWC) 2014 in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, to be held from March 27 to April 8.

Thangamuniyandi was rescued by Karunalaya, an organisation that works for child rights, when they found him wandering about on Marina beach and Chennai Central station. He was sent to school and trained to play football. “My mother does not want me back home because I wish to study. Now, all I want to do is to win the game and make everybody happy,” he said.

Along with 11 other boys, Thangamuniyandi will fly to Brazil and fight it out against 15 teams of boys, aged between 14 and 16, from 18 countries in the second edition of the World Cup.

The maiden series of SCWC in South Africa in 2010 was clinched by a team from Punjab.

“I never dreamt of doing anything like this. We are working with perseverance to win the cup. I hope we win,” said 16-year-old T. Gopinath, who was picked up off the streets by Karunalaya, a year ago.

Gopinath has run away from home to escape an abusive uncle. “He sent me out for work and would beat me up when he returned from work in the evening. I could not take it after a point,” he said.

Paul Sundar Singh, secretary of Karunalaya, said they had been training the children for the past year.

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