BRAZIL BEAT: Match day finally here at World Cup

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SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal says that while he's at the World Cup he is not thinking about his job next season. Well, not very much.

''The World Cup is a competition for nations; there are no clubs here. I am fully focused on the Dutch team and that's it,'' the 62-year-old Dutchman said as he prepared for Friday's match with Spain.

Van Gaal demands intense focus from his players as they ready for a tough Group B that also includes Australia and Chile. But he says they sometimes have to let their hair down.

''I gave the players Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning off because they have to think about something else,'' he said. ''You can't only be focused on the World Cup.''

That's where his new club commitments come in.

''Maybe you could describe Manchester United as a welcome distraction,'' he said.

Come next season, when he has to rebuild the club from its worst season in the English Premier League, Manchester United will have to be his sole focus.

- By Mike Corder -



SAO PAULO (AP) - In Sao Paulo, a city that sees far fewer international tourists than the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, subway passengers marveled at the new bilingual public address announcements.

One man joked of the pronunciation of the words ''next station'' by a voice with a Brazilian accent. It's a sign the city is adapting to the influx of visitors from abroad for the monthlong tournament.

Two young women laughed at the words, ''Next station, bye bye.''

- Adriana Gomez Licon -



RIBEIRAO PRETO (AP) - The problem with afternoon kickoffs is that players have no time to take a relaxing pre-match snooze.

France plays its first two group matches - against Honduras and Switzerland - at 4 p.m. local time, and the final group game against Ecuador an hour later.

France team physio Eric Bedouet says the training sessions are being held at 4 p.m. to get the players' bodies used to it.

''Training at 4 p.m. is very important for the matches. You have to prepare the body to withstand this hour, with practically no afternoon nap,'' Bedouet said Thursday. ''That's also worth noting, because that's not what happened before.''

The players are also battling the effects of jet lag.

''You have to recover from the journey well. That's very important. After all, we had a 15-hour flight and that affects the body a lot. There's a negative effect on the body,'' Bedouet said. ''You have to react quickly and reactivate the machine quickly. It takes longer or shorter depending on the player. Some players don't need much recovery sleep, which is not the case for others.''

France risks a rude awakening against Honduras on Sunday, a side reputed for its bruising, physical style.

- By Jerome Pugmire -



SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) - Spain's priorities Thursday before its World Cup opener against the Netherlands were quite clear.

Train quickly because Brazil is playing shortly.

Spain, the reigning World Cup champ, practiced at Salvador's Arena Fonte Nova hoping to get out in time to watch the kickoff of Brazil's opening match against Croatia in Sao Paulo.

''We'd like to watch all the games at the World Cup,'' Spain captain Iker Casillas said Thursday.

Spain faces the Netherlands on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 final, which it won 1-0. The Spaniards are also keeping an eye on the hosts, since Brazil thrashed them 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final last summer.

- By Paul Logothetis -



NATAL, Brazil (AP) - The Arena das Dunas in Natal, which hosts the second game Friday between Mexico and Cameroon, had been a worry spot for FIFA when thousands of seats hadn't been installed by late May.

But all the seats looked ready for fans Thursday when Mexico and Cameroon trotted out for their afternoon training sessions that were briefly open to reporters. The stadium is expected to hold 42,000.

The inside may be ready, but fans will find a work in progress on the outside, which was still marked by construction projects, fences and warning signs to keep pedestrians away from certain areas.

On one side of the stadium, a pedestrian walkway over a busy street wasn't close to being done: It goes up one side but doesn't come down.

- Jim Vertuno -



SAO PAULO (AP) - One game into the World Cup, and the referees are already receiving unwanted attention.

Brazil took the lead for good in the second half Thursday after striker Fred went down inside the area under light contact in the 71st minute. Neymar scored on the penalty to put the host country up 2-1.

Croatia later had a potential tying goal nullified in the 83rd minute after the referee called a foul by Ivica Olic on Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

Oscar's goal in injury time for the final 3-1 score took a bit of pressure off the refs.



SAO PAULO (AP) - Fireworks went off across Sao Paulo when Neymar scored the tying goal for Brazil in the 29th minute.

He made a heart with his hands as he celebrated the perfectly placed low left-footed shot that bounced off the right post and in, after Marcelo's own goal gave Croatia a shocking 1-0 lead in the World Cup opener.



SAO PAULO (AP) - Tens of thousands of yellow-clad fans kept singing the national anthem after the music stopped, and tears streamed down goalkeeper Julio Cesar's face.

Brazil's World Cup has officially started.

Doves were released as a sign of peace, formally beginning the tournament before the hosts faced Croatia in the opener at Itaquerao Stadium.

- Janie McCauley -



SAO PAULO (AP) - In a otherwise joyous scene at Itaquerao Stadium, Brazilians briefly made their displeasure known.

Late in the opening ceremony before the first match of the World Cup on Thursday, fans loudly chanted and booed against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and soccer's governing body, FIFA. Many in the nation have complained that spending on the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics has diverted cash from the poor and infrastructure improvements.

The atmosphere was otherwise festive before Brazil faced Croatia. Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and pop star Claudia Leitte bounced around a giant stage resembling a peeled melon singing the World Cup theme ''We Are One'' as Brazilian band Olodum banged drums below on this nation's Valentine's Day.

- Janie McCauley -


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