BRAZIL BEAT: Football a religion in Brazil? Services pushed back so congregants can watch game

The Associated Press

Costa Rica soccer fans celebrates a goal as they watch the Italy vs. Costa Rica World Cup match inside the FIFA Fan Fest area in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

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SAO PAULO (AP) — They say that football is a religion in Brazil. So when the World Cup is being played on home soil, actual religions have to make some adjustments.

Even before embarking on the traditional prayers to welcome the Jewish sabbath, Rabbi Ruben Sternschein had an important announcement to make: Monday's upcoming evening service at the Congregacao Israelita Paulista synagogue was being pushed back 45 minutes so that congregants could make it in time after Brazil's game against Cameroon.

Only then was it time for the congregation to begin its usual Friday night service.

— By Aron Heller — www.twitter.com/aronhellerap

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DEFENDING ROONEY

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Don't blame Wayne Rooney for England's early World Cup exit. That's the message from his Manchester United teammate, Robin van Persie, who knows firsthand that when a team plays badly, critics often fault the squad's biggest star.

No fair, says Van Persie, who has often said he moved from Arsenal to Manchester United in part so he could play alongside Rooney.

"I don't think you can blame him for scoring one goal, working his socks off and missing three chances by inches — because it was inches," the Netherlands captain told reporters at his team's training camp. "He gave his all for his country, like he always does. He's a great player, a great goal scorer, so I don't think it's fair on him to criticize him that much."

— By Mike Corder — www.twitter.com.mikecorder

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URBAN OASIS

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Belo Horizonte's municipal park is a different world from the noise and grit of the city.

It's not the Amazon, but lush tropical plants and stands of bamboo line narrow, winding paths in the 45-acre park, making it feel almost as though it's the middle of a rainforest. The park, which opened in 1897 and is based on French landscaping, is sandwiched between two major avenues. But traffic is barely audible.

With more than 50 different tree species, the park is a gem in the middle of a congested city. The narrow paths eventually open up into larger spaces, and there are three artificial lakes, including one where visitors can rent rowboats. The park is a popular spot on any given day, with families and runners mixing with strolling couples and World Cup tourists.

The park is also famous for its architecture. The Oscar Niemeyer-designed Palacio das Artes is just outside the main gates of the park and is Belo Horizonte's most prominent cultural center. Built in 1970, it's made up of theaters, art galleries, a cafe, a bookstore and a shop with handicrafts made in the state of Minas Gerais, whose capital is Belo Horizonte. At the moment, two of the center's art galleries contain a huge exhibit of renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who was born in a town in Minas Gerais.

A new architectural project is currently taking place inside the park. Designed by local architect Gustavo Penna, a new multipurpose structure is being built. Most of it will be open air and will contain a large stage for events, concerts and theatrical performances.

— By Frank Griffiths — www.twitter.com/fgriffithsap

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GOOD ADVICE

MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil (AP) — All of 21, Romelu Lukaku is already full of coaching advice for Manchester United on how Belgium teammate Marouane Fellaini should be played.

Fellaini is coming off a mediocre season after he was the top transfer for the team, which was marred by injury and the unsuccessful coaching stint of David Moyes.

If only they had taken the advice of Lukaku on how to maximize the midfielder's talents.

"The way he was used last year wasn't the way he should be used in a team," Lukaku said.

"You should play him higher up the pitch. Not really as a No. 6 but as a No. 8," he added, referring to the central midfield position and one that is farther upfield. "That is his best role because he scores goals and he covers a lot of distance as well."