Having grown up outside Liverpool, travel photographer Tony Burns can't recall a time when soccer wasn't a part of his life.

"I'd be hard pressed to say which I like more, football or photography," Burns wrote in an email. The 36-year-old, who now lives in Amsterdam, may have hung up his boots, but he's since found a way to combine his two passions in an ongoing pet project he's tentatively calling "Jogo Bonito," or the beautiful game.

A boy plays with a soccer ball against the background of a Rio slum, or favela. | (Tony Burns)

A brief moment of normality during a time of tragedy for the family of Claudia da Silva Ferreira, who was shot in Rio when police believed her to be an armed drug dealer on March 17, 2014. | (Tony Burns)

Burns decided to photograph the game as it's played around the world, but initially found himself focusing on Rio de Janeiro.

"I couldn't think of anywhere else in the world that would be a better location to shoot football," he said. "It's the heartland of the game and street football in particular is still played everywhere, which for an Englishman evokes memories of growing up in the 1980s where we did the same."

Inspired, Burns has returned to Brazil several times since 2012, and will be in the streets, camera-ready, before and during the World Cup.

Soccer courts are dotted around every favela and provide an escape from troubled communities, with games going on long into the night. This is Sao Carlos favela in Rio. | (Tony Burns)

Brazilian boys watching court soccer in Sao Carlos favela. | (Tony Burns)

That the game is the lifeblood of Brazilian culture can be seen in the sheer number of World Cups it has won (five, more than any other country), and in the layout of its cities, which are crammed with soccer courts — perched on the side of a steep hill or plopped into the center of congested housing complex.

"Wherever Cariocas (locals from Rio) can find a space in their city, they'll play football on it," Burns said.

There is a great expectation among Brazilians that their team will emerge victorious come July 13. | (Tony Burns)

Despite this deep connection with the sport, not all Brazilians are thrilled to be hosting the World Cup. Groups have threatened to disrupt the games and protests have erupted around the city, as people grow increasingly upset with the government for pouring billions into the cup while failing to address stubborn poverty problems.

"There's a sense of injustice that so much has been spent building stadiums and preparing for a tournament that will benefit just a few, when a majority feel they aren't even receiving an adequate level of healthcare, security, or education," Burns said.

"The Brazilians play football as if it were a dance...for [they] tend to reduce everything to dance, work and play alike," Brazilian historian Gilberto Freyre wrote in 1959. | (Tony Burns)

Brazilian children playing soccer in the streets of a favela in Rio. | (Tony Burns)

But the same feverish dedication that has made the sport so beloved will likely override the politics of the World Cup.

"As the tournament builds, football and support for Seleção (the nickname of the national team) will inevitably take over," he said. "After all, nobody loves the game as much as Brazilians."

For many children growing up in one of several hundred favelas in Rio, soccer is seen as the best chance for a successful life, away from the poverty and crime. Many dream of one day wearing Brazil’s famous yellow shirt and following in the famous footsteps of the likes of Pelé, Romário, and Neymar. | (Tony Burns)

A Brazilian boy in a favela in Rio. | (Tony Burns)

Cariocas playing soccer on Ipanema beach beneath the backdrop of Rio's famous Two Brothers mountains (Dois Irmãos). | (Tony Burns)

A selection of Tony Burns' photography will be exhibited by the Sao Paulo DOC art gallery's Mostra Futebol project during the World Cup. You can also view more from his soccer portfolio and other travel galleries on his website, and follow him on Facebook or Twitter as he photographs the World Cup, which kicks off June 12.