THEO WALCOTT took a walk with his England team-mates along the Copacabana and could hardly believe his eyes.
For there, bounding around in front of him, were primary school kids with better skills than he had.
Arsenal star Walcott admitted: “We had a stroll on the beach on Thursday and saw some of the kids who were six or seven using their shoulders and everything to play beach volley.
“I can’t even do that. It shows technically they have got it out here.”
In a week when there has been so much talk about England going back to the dark ages, it was a rather stark admission.
Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe was equally in awe.
He added: “I saw girls doing it, too. It was unbelievable. But when you come to Brazil you expect talent like that.”
Walcott and Defoe were speaking at a Sport Relief-funded project called Bola Pra Frente in Rio de Janeiro which educates six to 24-year-olds from some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities.
The project was set up by Jorginho, a 1994 World Cup-winner with Brazil. And watching on was another of the ’94 Samba stars, strike ace Bebeto.
Everywhere you looked on the astroturf pitch there were children who were comfortable on the ball, happy in possession, and they knew where the goal was.
There was also one girl with a shot like a cannonball.
That brought a laugh from Defoe who said: “I was just talking about that girl. Wow, we should get her on free-kicks. Watching all these kids, their technique is unbelievable.”
Defoe reckons Brazil’s kids are actually better players because they drop out of school early.
That is probably not something the English should advocate, however much we want a World Cup-winning football team.
Defoe, 30, added: “Sometimes when I’m driving round my local area I’ll go over to the park and watch the kids play, and they are very sharp.
“But it’s different over here. A lot of the kids drop out of school really early and maybe when they drop out they get a ball out and just play football. That’s going to help you develop as a footballer. If you get the ball out most days you improve.
“And when they look at all the great players they’ve had over the years it’s only normal to think you want to be like that.
“I was, I used to watch football on the telly then go over to the park with my mates.”
Lacking in technique they may be, but there was no doubt about the enthusiasm the England players were greeted with yesterday.
Defoe added: “It’s humbling coming to places like this, you realise how blessed you are. You come here, you get the ball out and everyone’s together, that’s the great thing about football.”
Walcott, 24, is looking forward to testing himself in the Maracana tomorrow. He said: “When we beat Brazil a few months ago it was probably the best performance at Wembley.
“When you play against the best that seems to bring something out of you a bit more. It will be tough and they will want to show the crowd what they can do.
“I don’t think Brazil are the team they used to be but in a couple of years they could be very good. I look forward to the challenge.
“Our draw against Ireland was an up and down performance and technically Brazil are better than the Irish.
“So the performance has to be slightly better but I don’t think it was the end of the world the other day.”
Walcott scored 14 league goals for the Gunners last season and could get the chance to play up front with England’s resources so stretched.
He said: “It would be fantastic. I’ve said I wanted to play there.
“People say I’ve played up front this year but I’ve had limited opportunities and got most of my goals from the wing.
“I am the top Englishman for goals and assists in the Premier League, my confidence is good and that was from playing on the wing.
“Playing for England in any position is a dream but I’ve had a go up front in training so we will see.”
As for England’s chance of returning to Brazil next year for the World Cup finals, Walcott repeated what he told SunSport in an exclusive interview a fortnight ago.
He said: “It wouldn’t be right if we weren’t here. We have some tough qualifying matches but we want to be here next year, no doubt about it.”
Maybe a skills DVD of the kids on the beach should be dropped into every England player’s kit bag to inspire them.
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