Photo Essay

  • Children play on a soccer field on the roof of an apartment building in Bangkok, Thailand, in July 2013.
  • Kids play with a ball among the ruins of a building that was destroyed during the earthquake in the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2011.
  • A group of men play soccer on the beach in Mauritius in May 2000.
  • Young boys play soccer in the Rocinha favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in May 2008.
  • An aerial view of Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2009. The city hosted the 2010 World Cup.
  • A soccer field is seen from above in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2009.
  • Young Tibetans play soccer at a playground of a junior high school in the suburbs of Dharamsala, India, April 2012.
  • Men play soccer in Bois de Boulogne Park in Paris, March 2004.
  • Imprints left by soccer balls on a dirty wall marked by shrapnel and bullet holes from decades of conflict, in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2009.
  • Dust rises as children play soccer in Kabul, Afghanistan, in June 2010.
  • People gather to play soccer in Dalya, Nigeria, on April 9, 2013.
  • A boy wears a deflated soccer ball on his head while other boys play soccer at the iQhayiya Senor Secondary School in Cape Town, South Africa, on May 26, 2010.
  • Kids play soccer in the town center in Taijiang, Guizhou Province, China, in 2007.
  • A soccer field is seen from above in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, in 2009.
  • Qatari girls and women prepare to play soccer on the grounds of the Omar Bin Khatab Boys school in Doha, Qatar, in February 2014.
  • Sanaa, Yemen. Children play soccer in an abandoned city square in Yemen late at night, April 12, 2002.
  • Children use a goal made from branches and old mosquito net in Mueda, Mozambique, in April 2011.
  • Children play soccer on a concrete field in Bellavista, Peru, a new settlement on the outskirts of Lima, in April 2011.
  • A group of men play soccer on the island of Pulau Bugis, Indonesia, in 2003.
  • A student keeps a soccer ball nearby in class at Mokone Primary School, in Langa, South Africa, May 2010.
  • Tachileik, Burma. Akha boys play soccer in the Padek neighborhood of Tachileik, Burma, in May 2013. The Akha are an indigenous hill tribe that established themselves in the area before a large influx of Burmese people moved to Tachileik, increasing the population from 100,000 to 300,000 people.
  • Boys play soccer in a field in El Valle, Panama, in November 2011.
  • Young men watch soccer on a rooftop in the Rocinha favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in April 2007.
  • Youngsters play soccer at Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, in April 2007.
  • People play soccer in the in the street in Del Rio, Texas, in 2011.
  • People play soccer in Narsaq, Greenland, in May 2013.
  • Boys play a game of soccer in the street using two trees as goal posts in Klosdorf, Romania, August 2010.
  • Children play soccer in the ruins of a house destroyed during the 1990s civil war in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 2010.
  • Young boys walk off a soccer field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 2008.
  • Masoala National Park, Madagascar. Kids play soccer in a tiny village at the Masoala National Park. November 2003.
  • Freestyle soccer player Arnaud Garnier jams at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, November 2010.
  • A small group of villagers from Aappilattoq, Greenland meet for a soccer game on the ice in the afternoon outside their village, in February 2008.
  • Ozd, Hungary. Roma boys stand at their settlement near Ozd, May 2004.
  • Children play soccer in the M'Berra camp for Malian refugees in Mauritania, March 2013.
  • Kids play soccer in an empty swimming pool in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2007.
  • Soccer fans from Cairo's two premier teams, Al-Ahly and Zamalek, join other protesters angry over the deaths of dozens of Cairo soccer fans during a stadium massacre in Port Said, Feb. 3, 2012.
  • Bristol, England. Boys play soccer during their lunch break at St. Mary Redcliffe School, 2010.
  • A young boy waits to play soccer with his friends in the refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria, May 2009.
  • Men play soccer in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, in 2009.
  • Two boys play soccer on Labadi beach in Accra, Ghana, September 2009.
  • Guinean youth play soccer in the town of Keruane at the base of the Simandou mountain range, the site of one of the world's largest untapped iron ore deposits, April 17, 2013.
  • A boy plays with a soccer ball in Bezons, Val d'Oise, France, March 2012.
  • Men sit on a soccer bench during a game organized with teams mixed with players from the U.S. Army and Iraqi forces in Baghdad, June 2009.
  • Soccer fans inside the main stadium where the first-ever soccer game is being played between the Republic of South Sudan's national team and Kenya in Juba, South Sudan, June 2011.
  • Men play soccer in Queensmead Stadium, in Lusaka, Zambia, 2007.
  • A young boy plays soccer on a strip of land by the embankment surrounding Padma Pakur island, in Bangladesh. Sea levels in the Bay of Bengal are rising, affecting the hundreds of thousands of villagers living on the low islands in the south. When Cyclone Aila hit Bangladesh in May 2009, dikes and villages were totally destroyed and over 300 people were killed.
  • A young boy plays with a soccer ball in Plancoët, France, August 2008.
  • Young boys play soccer in Musina, South Africa, January 2010.
  • A group of children and young men play with a soccer ball in the district of Hamar Wayene in Mogadishu, Somalia in September 2011. The building in the background shows the scars of a civil war that has ravaged the country since 1991.
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The beautiful game: Soccer around the globe

Updated

Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Rooney may get the headlines. But soccer isn’t just about the global megastars who will face off at the 20th World Cup, which kicks off Thursday in Brazil, the sport’s spiritual home.

It’s also about the hundreds of millions of ordinary people around the world who play, often equipped with little more than a makeshift ball and a passion for the game.

From the townships of South Africa to the playgrounds of Bristol to the favelas of Rio, perhaps nothing brings people together like soccer. So as you get set for the festival of futebol that will entrance the world for the next month, enjoy these stunning shots of the Beautiful Game in its simplest and most authentic form.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography