BRAZIL BEAT: Fan mail pours in to Brazil players

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Brazil's David Luiz smiles during a news conference in Teresopolis, Brazil, Friday, June 20, 2014. Brazil plays in group A at the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian players received nearly 6,000 fan letters before the team's practice Friday.

Two mailmen went to the team's training camp outside Rio de Janeiro to deliver them.

"This is one of the most gratifying things in our lives," defender David Luiz said at a news conference. "There's nothing better than being able to receive these letters with the support from our fans."

Luiz thanked the mailmen for their "hard work," saying that "without you we wouldn't be able to receive this support."

The mailmen posed for photos with Luiz and defender Marcelo before their news conference.

The Brazilian federation has set up a special post office box for the letters sent to the national team.

After receiving the letters, Luiz and Marcelo also had an unusual way to decide which player would talk first — they played rock, paper, scissors.

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

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NATAL SINKHOLE

NATAL, Brazil (AP) — A giant sinkhole has swallowed cars and damaged the homes of some 150 families living in a poor neighborhood in a northern Brazilian city that's one of 12 hosting the World Cup matches.

A top aide to President Dilma Rousseff arrived Friday to Natal to oversee efforts to provide aid and housing to those affected when heavy rains gradually opened a hole in the earth beneath a neighborhood a short distance from a coastal road popular with fans visiting the city. Amazingly, nobody was killed.

Integration Minister Francisco Teixeira said that once displaced families are cared for, the government will develop a plan to stabilize the soil and rebuild the drainage system to prevent another tragedy. Authorities also plan to condemn and raze several homes in harm's way if the ground cedes further.

The crater was formed as a result of heavy rains that have battered the city for days. Natal next hosts a Group D match between Italy and Uruguay on Tuesday.

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TOO LATE

SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Karim Benzema had just scored his second goal of the game and fourth of the tournament, and the sixth of the day for France.

Hold on — never mind. Referee Bjorn Kuipers blew his whistle moments before the ball soared into the net on Benzema's curling, first-time strike, ending France's 5-2 win over Switzerland in Group E on Friday.

Kuipers was smiling a big impishly as he walked off the pitch. The French had plenty to smile about despite that last goal not counting, considering they have won both their matches and are all but guaranteed to advance.

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STRONG IRAN

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Argentina is not just facing Iran's national football team, but its culture and war-torn history, too, when the two teams go head to head at the Mineirao Stadium on Saturday.

At least if you believe Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, who strayed beyond sport when he analyzed the Iranians on Friday before their Group F match.

"It's a team that has to do with the Iranian culture," Sabella said. "A country that has been through wars. A country that is physically and mentally strong."

Iran fought an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.

He didn't explain how that affects the way Iran plays football, but said he expected Iran to try to hurt Argentina on set pieces and counter-attacks.

— By Karl Ritter - www.twitter.com/karl_ritter

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ALTIDORE'S REHAB

SAO PAULO (AP) — U.S. forward Jozy Altidore slowly made his way to the field Friday at Sao Paulo Futebol Club accompanied by trainers, his injured left leg taped.

Altidore was still smiling — even if this is hardly the way he envisioned his World Cup going.

"I'm hanging in there," he said.

The Sunderland striker, who scored twice in his team's final sendoff series match against Nigeria, strained his left hamstring in the first half of Monday's 2-1 victory against Ghana in Natal. He will miss Sunday's second Group G match against Portugal at Manaus.

Teammates and coach Jurgen Klinsmann are still hopeful he will play again in Brazil.

Klinsmann is likely to choose between Aron Johannsson — Altidore's replacement against Ghana — and Chris Wondolowski to start Sunday.

"Jozy is a special player. You can't — it's like saying, 'Hey, go be Cristiano Ronaldo' — you can't necessarily replace certain aspects of it," Wondolowski said. "But I think both Aron and I bring different styles, different sets of skills that I think are useful, and I think that's what we're going do."

—By Janie McCauley — www.twitter.com/JanieMcCAP

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EYES ON ICE

CAMPINAS, Brazil (AP) — The most scrutinized knee in the World Cup was on display again Friday as Cristiano Ronaldo practiced with his Portugal teammates. And that was all anyone could talk about at the team's base in Campinas, with scores of cameras zooming in on the reigning world player of the year's every move, twitch and gesture.

Team officials sighed when asked about the status of Ronaldo, who has been struggling with a leg injury since before the tournament. Even for a team used to having all the attention on its star player, the media madness appeared to be weighing on Portugal.

At the team's news conference, the majority of the questions were about Ronaldo, even though he wasn't the one answering them.

Teammate Helder Postiga said he was sick of it.

"After the training today there were 10 players applying ice on themselves. We used three bags of ice! That cannot be a reason to create so many rumors about Cristiano," he said. "Cristiano is training; he's fine. He is going to be important for us. He is going to help the team. We all have a common goal. Ice is just an exercise, something normal after training. You need to take it more naturally."

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

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POKER STAR

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Max Kruse isn't playing for Germany at the World Cup, so he found another international competition — the World Series of Poker.

The Borussia Moenchengladbach forward finished in third place and won $36,494 this week in one of the Las Vegas tournament's 65 events.

Kruse, 26, played in three World Cup qualifiers for Germany but has since fallen out of favor.

WSOP spokesman Seth Palansky says it was Kruse's first time playing the 2-7 Draw Lowball variant of poker, so he got a 30-minute tutorial from fellow German and poker star George Danzer before making his strong showing.

The seven-week series features an estimated 80,000 players. Organizers expect to give out $200 million in prize money during the events.

— By Michelle Rindels — www.twitter.com/RindelsAP

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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