As a kid, Egi Melgiansyah played football barefoot in the dirt streets of a village in West Java, Indonesia. Penniless but passionate, he pursued his dream over the years with grit and determination, drowning out naysayers who didn’t believe in him.

“Most people thought I had no talent,” he recalls. “One day while I was jogging as part of my afternoon training, a man shouted at me, ‘You’ll never be successful.’”

Words like that stung, but they also motivated Egi to work harder. He got his break when he heard about a local tournament called Copa Coca-Cola, which gives teenage players the chance to hone their talent and embrace core values such as teamwork, friendship and respect through their shared passion for the sport.

“It’s a proving ground for young players that allows them to achieve their dreams and secure their future,” recalls Egi. “Coca-Cola Cup was an amazing experience for me. My career started with that competition.”

Egi silenced his critics when was named Copa Coca-Cola player in 2006. Five years later, he captained the Indonesian Junior National Team. Now he’s helping to put his two brothers through school and built a new house for his parents. “If it wasn’t for Copa Coca-Cola, I don’t know where I would have ended up,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t be as lucky as I am today.”

He’s not alone. Since launching in Mexico in 1998, Copa Coca-Cola has expanded to more than 60 countries, reaching more than 1.3 million young players. Teams of boys and girls between 13 and 15 years old, on average, play their way through a series of regional rounds to a national championship. The format and season vary slightly by country.

“Copa Coca-Cola is more than a game. It’s an opportunity for teens to be active while playing the sport they love,” said Hande Aksoy, 2014 FIFA World Cup global marketing manager, Coca-Cola. “We want to inspire teens to lead active healthy lives, form lasting friendships and follow their dreams.”

The 2014 global Copa Coca-Cola program continues to expand its footprint under the leadership of Coke's Middle East and North Africa team. Nabil Kouchouk, strategic marketing manager, said Copa Coca-Cola is by far the world’s largest brand-supported grassroots football program. “No other brand can bring this many young people together,” he adds. “Our scale sets us apart.”

In the United States, for example, the program re-launched this year. Teams competed in round-robin tournaments in 10 cities before reaching the finals in Los Angeles at the end of April. The weekend event was held during the last stop on the international leg of the 90-country FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour. “In the U.S., Copa Cola-Cola is one of the biggest proof points of our active, healthy living commitment in 2014 and going forward," said Jose Torrens, brand manager, Hispanic marketing.

A few weeks from now, four players from the U.S. champion teams (two boys and two girls) will join more than 100 other participants from 25-plus countries in Brazil for the inaugural Copa Coca-Cola Camp. During the six-day experience, the young footballers will train with top coaches, play matches and make new friends from around the world.

Football will be the universal language spoken on the field.  “The experience is not a survival-of-the-fittest, country-versus-country showdown,” Aksoy explains. “It’s not about who wins or loses. We want to create connections and encourage teens to express themselves through their shared devotion to this beautiful game.”

On June 11, select campers will play a Special Olympics Unified Game with local Special Olympics athletes. The next day, they will travel to Sao Paulo for the 2014 FIFA World Cup opening match, where the Coca-Cola Happiness Flag will be unveiled. The young players also will partner with Coca-Cola Brazil, Brazilian street artist Speto and Brazilian football stars Bebeto and Marta to restore two community pitches near the stadium.

“Everything we have planned supports the World’s Cup message,” Aksoy adds, referring to the global Coca-Cola campaign highlighting the inclusive power of football. “We’ve built a program that’s not just about competition and sport, but about championing our values and leaving a lasting legacy.”

To read this article in Spanish click here.

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