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   July 1, 2002 | 1400 IST


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Carnival erupts in Brazil

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A sea of yellow and green washed over Brazil on Sunday as the country took to the streets -- dancing, singing, shouting and drinking -- after winning an unprecedented fifth World Cup soccer title.

Carnival in Brazil Cars draped in the colors of the South American country's flag filled Sao Paulo with the blare of their horns, and dancing broke out in the streets of Rio de Janeiro to the shouts of "Penta Campeao" -- Portuguese for "five-time champion."

In Porto Seguro, the birthplace of Brazil where the Portuguese landed in 1500, thousands converged on the palm-lined streets under the blazing sun in a party that resembled the pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations.

"Am I happy? I'm exploding with happiness," said Wilson Gomes, bouncing through the beach city to Afro-Brazilian rhythms. "There will be a party that will blow Porto Seguro apart."

The celebrations went off mostly without any major incidents, except for three fatal shootings in two small towns in southern Brazil, according to local media.

For many Brazilians, the country's 2-0 win over Germany in Yokohama, Japan, helped wipe away Brazil's 3-0 loss to the French at the last World Cup final four years ago. The defeat triggered a fit of self-doubt over their longtime dominance in the sport in which Brazil won the 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994 cups.

Indeed, after a string of embarrassing defeats against second-tier teams in the pre-Cup qualifiers, Brazilians were skeptical they would be five-time champs.

"It was spectacular. ... Brazil's heart beats stronger," said Cicero Batista, a street cleaner in Sao Paulo who, like millions of Brazilians, rejoiced when striker Ronaldo scored the two goals. Batista watched the game at a corner bakery over coffee and bread.

Beer quickly substituted the normal breakfast fare on Sao Paulo's main strip, Avenida Paulista, as 50,000 Brazilians of all income and ethnic groups congregated for the daylong festivities.

At Rio de Janeiro's Alzirao street party, where 40,000 watched the game, and along the famous Copacabana beach, fans shimmied to samba beats under the bright winter sun.


For many Brazilians, the win was sweet relief from a financial crisis that has gripped the country the past month, pushing its currency, the real, to record lows against the U.S. dollar and unnerving investors before October's presidential election race.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso congratulated players and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, known as "Big Phil."

"Ronaldo is the world's greatest!" Cardoso, choked with emotion, told reporters outside the presidential palace in Brasilia.

Brazil, the home of soccer legends like Pele and Garrincha, has excelled in the sport since teen-ager Charles Miller brought a soccer ball back from his studies in Britain a century ago.

Together with the Portuguese language and Roman Catholic religion, soccer has helped bind together 170 million Europeans, blacks, native Indians, Asians and Arabs living in a nation larger than the continental United States.

Native Pataxo Indians, swapping red tribal paint for the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag, gathered in the Coroa Vermelha reserve where they had performed a ritual on Saturday to ask their god for a World Cup victory.

"We are descendants of the Indians, of the first Brazilians who were found here. Our country has fought and now we won," said Capim Bara, a Pataxo tribesman wearing his feather headdress atop a bandanna emblazoned with the Brazilian flag.

Although Cardoso dashed hopes a public holiday would be decreed on Monday, revelers said they might not be too productive anyway.

"I don't think we'll be going to work tomorrow after so much partying," said Claudi Mary Sampaio, 27, on the streets of Porto Seguro.

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