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BRAZIL BEAT: Japan's fans brighten stands

The Associated Press
BRAZIL BEAT: International flavor in Sao Paulo
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RECIFE, Brazil (AP) -- The Japanese always have some of the most spirited - and outlandish - fans at the World Cup.

As Pernambuco Stadium filled up for the Blue Samurai's first match against Ivory Coast, a tiny Japanese girl walked by dressed as an enormous football, cute cuddly toys hanging from her neck and a Dr. Seuss hat perched on her head.

Many Japan supporters sported samurai top-knot wigs while wearing the blue jerseys of their favorite players. Others had headbands painted with the Japanese ''hinomaru'' flag and VICTORY written in slashing Japanese characters.

Koichi Ikeda was in the stands with two other friends, their heads transformed into gigantic ''daruma'' good-luck charm dolls. The blank eyes of the daruma are filled with black when your wishes come true. Ikeda says one eye will be painted Sunday, the other after Japan's game next Thursday against Greece.

- By Joji Sakurai - www.twitter.com/jojisakurai

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MANAUS OPERA HOUSE

MANAUS, Brazil (AP) - Local singer Marcia Siqueira was rehearsing at the Amazon theater in downtown Manaus, and he didn't seem to object as England and Italy fans snapped photos and looked around in awe inside the ornate opera house, one of the jungle city's top cultural gems.

Inaugurated in 1896 at the height of the rubber boom, the theater was built with a mixture of imported materials from Europe - marble from Carrara, Italy; cast iron from Paris; Murano glass from Venice - and local resources from the surrounding rain forest.

The theater holds an opera festival each spring.

Known for its dome of ceramic tiles painted in the colors of the Brazilian flag, the walls of the building are pink. From about 1960-90, though, the outer walls were painted in a drab gray and green in accordance with the military dictatorship of those decades.

- By Andrew Dampf - www.twitter.com/asdampf

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WARM WELCOME

CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) - Hundreds of noisy Iranian football fans cheered their team Saturday as it arrived in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba for its first game of the World Cup.

For one man of faith, the joy highlighted how football can bring people together in a way that religion and politics often don't.

''They are chanting my country, that for sure has special feeling,'' said local Sheikh Mohammed Sadegh Ibrahimi. ''Now you can see Iranians, Iraqis, Brazilians, Slovenians, Polish, all together.''

Curitiba has a significant Muslim population, and the Sheikh's mosque is renowned in the world of Islam.

Most of the crowd seemed to be local. Some of the supporters had come from outside of Iran, which has been isolated over its nuclear program.

Iran is currently in talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany about lifting crippling economic sanctions. Last November, an interim deal saw an easing of some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran's uranium enrichment program. The agreement was intended to buy time for the negotiation of a comprehensive deal.

Iran's football team has struggled at times to arrange friendlies. On Monday, the Iranians, like Nigeria, will be looking for their first win in the World Cup since 1998.

- Pan Pylas - www.twitter.com/PanPylas

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LANGUAGE BARRIER

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) - France coach Didier Deschamps looked perplexed, a crease growing bigger on his forehead as he listened to questions in English during his news conference previewing Sunday's match against Honduras.

Clearly irritated, one English reporter suggested Deschamps use the headphones that provide simultaneous translation.

''Didier, I'll try not to sound like an angry Englishman here,'' the reporter barked. ''But given that Euro 2012 was marred by clashes with the media and the French team, might it be an idea to use the headphones and listen to international questions, so that you don't offend the international media?''

Staring blankly ahead, Deschamps did not seem sure what he was being reproached for, although he understood the subject matter. He slid the headphones on, fidgeted with the button on the side, and then took them off again.

''I rest my case,'' the exasperated English journalist said from the back of the room.

''Does he want me to put them on?'' a confused Deschamps mumbled as he glanced across to the France team's press officer.

Deschamps, who played one season in the English Premier League for Chelsea in the 1999-2000 season, then kept talking to himself as he struggled with the headphones.

''Is that OK? ... Oh, there's no sound,'' Deschamps went on, even talking over another journalist trying to ask a question in English.

Then, Deschamps gave up.

''Doesn't work, ah, new technology,'' he said, putting the headphones down.

- By Jerome Pugmire - www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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BEVERAGES BANNED

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) - No meat skewers allowed. Brazilian authorities are cracking down on unauthorized sales near World Cup stadiums.

Police in the host city of Salvador said Saturday they seized thousands of bottles and cans of beverages from brands not sponsoring the World Cup.

Authorities said the beverages - including beer, water and soft drinks - were being illegally sold near the stadium where the Netherlands beat Spain 5-1 on Friday, in an area where only FIFA-sponsored products can be peddled.

Police in the northeastern city said in a statement that 269 hats ''illegally using FIFA brands'' also were seized, along with pamphlets promoting a local concert, three sound systems, a knife-like weapon and even 100 meat skewers that were on sale near the Arena Fonte Nova stadium.

- By Tales Azzoni - www.twitter.com/tazzoni

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Associated Press reporters will be filing dispatches about happenings in and around Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. Follow AP journalists covering the World Cup on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-Sports/world-cup-2014

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