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BRAZIL BEAT: Discount diplomacy at the World Cup

June 17, 2014
Associated Press

OLINDA, Brazil (AP) — The nearly 500-year-old coastal community of Olinda is a UNESCO World Heritage site where narrow, cobblestone streets climb a hillside past stucco-sided buildings painted in cheerful shades of yellow, orange, green and blue, finished off with white trim highlighting old-world architectural detail.

There, one might find a handful of residents wearing Jacoby Ellsbury Red Sox shirts or baseball caps commemorating the team's 2013 American League Championship Series victory. It won't be long before someone strolls by in a Tyler Seguin Bruins jersey.

Call it discount diplomacy.

Greg Conley, who jokingly refers to himself as "the clearance ambassador," has been to 15 straight Olympics and is now in Brazil, at his eighth consecutive World Cup. Before he leaves for such trips, the 50-year-old Boston native hits the clearance racks, where he often finds bargains on dated sports merchandise, allowing him to stock up.

Ellsbury no longer plays for Boston, and Seguin was traded away by the city's pro hockey team, so their gear is now deeply marked down.

This year, Conley chose a seaside hotel in Olinda, just north of the World Cup host city of Recife, as his base in Brazil.

Conley finds his travels more rewarding if he can offer gifts to those who act particularly friendly or helpful, be it with directions, ordering food or navigating language barriers.

"My philosophy about the Olympics and World Cup is that this is a party, and seven years ago Brazil was awarded the honor of hosting this party, and all of us are guests at their party. My grandparents always said, 'It's best to show up at a party with one arm longer than the other,'" Conley said in his unmistakable Boston accent, pronouncing "arm" like "ahm" and "longer" like "longah."

"Bring wine, cheese, or in this case a Jarrod Saltalamacchia Red Sox shirt. It's the thought that counts. It puts a smile on people's faces."

—By Brett Martel —



SAO PAULO (AP) — Sao Paulo traffic crawls on a typical day. When Brazil is playing a World Cup game, it barely moves.

So workers could get home on time to watch the 4 p.m. match, employers let them leave early, creating an epic traffic jam on major thoroughfare Avenida Paulista and all surrounding streets. It took a half hour to travel four blocks — a whole hour to complete the requisite U-turn to get off the avenue.

Agitated drivers blared their horns for minutes at a time as pedestrians whizzed by on the sidewalks and enjoyed the street music playing. Everyone on the sidewalk was happy and dressed in yellow. Everyone in the cars was hot and miserable.

Claudio Jose Rodrigues, a taxi driver of nine years, said he'd never seen anything like it before.

"This is different from the first game because that was a holiday," he said of the opener last Thursday in Sao Paulo against Croatia.

Nelson Davis, a Sao Paulo executive, said he was sending his workers home early and hoped to evade the traffic.

"It's like Super Bowl Sunday on a weekday," he said.

— Aron Heller —



FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — More than 3,500 Mexican fans arrived on a cruise ship to watch their nation play host Brazil on Tuesday.

The ship arrived early Monday and will depart a day after the match in the northeastern Brazilian city.

The fans are spending several weeks in Brazil, traveling to each city where Mexico plays — Natal, Fortaleza and Recife, all in coastal Brazil in the northeast.

The Mexicans who paid for the trip also got tickets for the team's games during the World Cup.

Nearly 30,000 Mexican fans were expected in Fortaleza for Tuesday's match. The loud crowd took over parts of the Arena Castelao, although the stadium was still filled mostly by Brazilians wearing the green and yellow colors of their national team.

— By Tales Azzoni —



BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — They traveled for 50 hours by bus from Lionel Messi's hometown, Rosario, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Argentina star.

On Tuesday, 120 teenage boys from the Renato Cesarini football academy clustered around the entrance of the team's base in Belo Horizonte, all wearing Argentina's blue and white-striped shirt.

After some negotiations with security guards and team officials at the gate, it was agreed that 10 of them would be allowed in to watch Argentina practice.

Named after the late Argentina player and coach Renato Cesarini, the academy has seen several national team players rise through its ranks, including Javier Mascherano and Martin Demichelis.

Messi, however, did not. The Argentina captain moved to Spain and FC Barcelona at 13, which has made it difficult for him to win the hearts of many of his countrymen, despite all his accolades.

The teenagers from Rosario, though, expressed no doubts about Messi's Argentine heart as they jealously watched journalists pass through security.

"People think that because he went abroad he doesn't play with passion for the national team," said Ezequiel Luna, a 17-year-old defender. "But he keeps it well inside. He wears the Argentina shirt with pride."

— By Karl Ritter —



FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — Hundreds of Mexican fans showed up the last two nights outside of the team*s hotel to serenade the players.

The Mexicans gathered around the Luzeiros hotel in Fortaleza, many of them wearing their huge sombreros, while the younger generation wore the popular wrestling masks with the team colors.

A mariachi group began to play songs as everybody joined in what became a huge Mexican fiesta.

The songs were so loud and so emotive that the Mexican players came out to the balcony to listen to the music and thanked the fans.

"We had a rough year, 2013. We owed the people, and that show of love motivates us to come out to thank them," Mexican manager Miguel Herrera said. "The people are doing a great effort to be here and support us. We wanted to show them that we are not untouchables."

The second night of serenading did not have the same happy ending. Players and the coach opted to rest before a tough match against Brazil on Tuesday.

The good news for the fans was that, as can happen with some angry fathers in many serenades in Mexico, no one came out to quiet them by throwing a bucket of water.

— By Carlos Rodriguez —



BERLIN (AP) — Germany forward Lukas Podolski got his selfie with Chancellor Angela Merkel. So did midfielder Julian Draxler and backup goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler.

One of their teammates missed out, however, when their country's leader dropped into the dressing room to congratulate the players after Monday's 4-0 victory over Portugal.

Defender Per Mertesacker wrote in German on Twitter: "The chancellor didn't have a selfie for me today," followed by a frowning face. "But," he added more optimistically, "maybe I'll get a rose," followed by a smiley face and four exclamation points.


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:



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