WITH only hours before the Fifa World Cup showdown, Khayelitsha youths are already soccer-mad.

For these young people soccer has become a vehicle of social change - keeping them away from the streets and away from trouble.

Also, on the eve of the historic tournament on the African soil, the youths have wished Bafana-Bafana well as they take on Mexico in the opening game on Friday afternoon.

In the vibey neighbourhood of Harare, Fifa's newly opened state-of-the-art Football for Hope Centre has become a major rendezvous, attracting many youngsters to play games, learn the diski dance and more about HIV and Aids.

Before the centre opened last year a huge number of youths said they had nothing to do except roam the streets and court trouble.

Now, thanks to Fifa and its nonprofit partner Grassroots Soccer SA, the youths say their lives have been given a new dimension for the better.

At the centre Grassroots Soccer says at the heart of its programming "lies the 8-practice Skillz curriculum: the soccer and other activities set of lessons that teaches young people about the facts and myths of HIV.

The organisation said that it also helped them "to identify and navigate potentially hazardous situations, gives them the life skills, guidance and resources to continue leading long, healthy lives".

From the surrounding communities the organisation recruited coaches who are role models to facilitate and push activities forward.

Lwazi Mngeneta, a passionate community leader who helps the organisation recruit youths, said: "Games help create the hype around the World Cup."

He said a Community League consisting of 15 senior and 12 junior teams was recently formed.

The teams, which compete every weekend, had assumed the names of the players of national teams that would be playing in the World Cup and have become familiar to them.

"The plan is to hold our own Mini-World Cup," Mngeneta said.

He said the games, plus education, had helped "eliminate a high level of crime, alcohol abuse and unemployment.

"Many used to take drugs, but I can see changes," Mngeneta said.

In a hall at the centre an inspirational messages decorate the wall: "Failure happens all the time. It happens every day. What makes you better is how you react to it".

"Be the change you want to see in the world" and "Respect and be sensitive to others".

Apart from theoretical lessons on HIV and Aids, young girls use the hall to practise the diski dance in preparation to impress spectators during the tournament.

Tholakele Mngadi, 22, a lead dancer and coach, said the activity was going to "reduce teenage pregnancies in the hood".

She said: "Kids have stopped loitering around. Ladies are now leaving the streets. There is also a change in the crime pattern."

Mngadi said she was teaching the diski dance to children between eight and 19 years.

Some of the kids were too shy to speak to Sowetan but indicated that they loved what they were learning.

Another coach, Thembisa Ngamlana, said activities were "hammering home the message of hope".

Ngamlana said she initially failed her matric because of alcohol abuse, went into rehab and back to school and she passed her examinations.

She said she uses her own example during classes to inspire those who have lost hope and control of their lives.

Ngamlana said some of the children share experiences with their peers that they were afraid to share with their parents.

"Some of the kids have been abused at home," Ngamlana said.

She said her organisation was taking its lessons to schools around the community, where they engaged with learners during life orientation classes.