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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Homeless Team Is Back Home

APA view of the center court during the Homeless World Cup in Graz, Austria, last week.
It's not often that a Russian soccer team returns from an international championship with its head held high. It's even more unusual when coming home really means returning to no home.

The Russian team of seven homeless men won six of its 10 games at the Homeless World Cup in Graz, Austria, last week, and they returned to St. Petersburg on Monday proud and happy.

Drawn in the toughest group, alongside eventual runner-up England, Russia only missed out on making the second round on goal difference. Its best result was a 10-2 thrashing of Ireland.

Officially, the team came 13th out of the 18 countries represented, but the coaches voted it the sixth best team and named Maxim Mastitsky the best player.

"We landed in the group of death," Mastitsky, 20, said by phone Tuesday. "We should have gotten a higher place."

Mastitsky said the coaches on the English team invited him for a tryout at Manchester United.

Although called homeless, five of the seven Russians do not live on the streets. They live without residency permits, which are officially needed to obtain an apartment, work and insurance. Most of them have jobs or study, but not all have accommodations. For them, the trip was one of a lifetime, Mastitsky said. "We had two people from homeless shelters, and you look at them and see they were so happy. It's the best thing that has happened in their lives," he said. "You looked and saw the joy in their eyes."

Player Andrei Li, originally from Sakhalin Island, stays in shelters and sells newspapers. Temur Tursyubekov lives in a rehabilitation center for released convicts.

Three Swedish players were sent home after drinking before the start of the tournament. But other than that, everything appeared to go smoothly.

"They were adults, and there were no problems. Nobody drank," Mastitsky said of his team.

He said the Russians socialized with their beaten opponents the Irish, but most of all with the South African team.

"They lived nearby us, and we always got together. They didn't know our language, we didn't know theirs, but we explained things with our hands," he said.

The success of the World Cup, organized by the Independent Street Paper Network, means it will probably become an annual event. Russia hopes to go back again -- and maybe beat this year's winner, Austria. "It was a colossal experience, " Mastitsky said.