BRAZIL BEAT: Sounds of Italy at World Cup

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Italy's Antonio Cassano, left, talks with teammate Mario Balotelli during a training session in Mangaratiba, Brazil, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Italy will play in group D of the Brazil 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

MANGARATIBA, Brazil (AP) — Luigi Serrano was banging out the notes to the Neapolitan folk song "Reginella" at Casa Azzurri on Wednesday.

He's the official singer at the facility that the Italian football federation sets up at World Cups and European Championships for media and sponsor activities.

As visitors sip strong Italian espresso or taste a plate of pasta, they can listen to classic Italian tunes.

"I specialize in songs from the 60s, which are also very popular here in Brazil — songs by Peppino Di Capri, Mina, Ornella Vanoni," Serrano said.

Serrano is from the southern Italian region of Calabria and works as a pianist and singer at the well-known Jackie O' club off the famed Via Veneto in Rome.

He's been working at Casa Azzurri since the 2008 European Championship in Austria.

So who's the best singer on Italy's squad?

"I think (Antonio) Cassano, if I remember correctly. He's a nice guy," Serrano said. "(Andrea) Pirlo is nice too, but I don't think he sings."

The Italy squad also has a theme song and video created specifically for this World Cup by the Italian group Negramaro:

— By Andrew Dampf —



CAMPINAS, Brazil (AP) — With his cap on backward, Cristiano Ronaldo strolled off a plane, lifted a hand and coolly pointed to acknowledge a bunch of fans who shouted out his name. Another day in the life.

And on his cap? A No. 7, of course, his beloved shirt number.

The Portugal and Real Madrid forward took his first steps in Brazil to yells of "Ronaldo!" as he arrived for the World Cup showing no signs of the left leg injuries that had troubled the world player of the year's buildup to the tournament.

He ambled across the tarmac with his backpack and a kit bag at an airport near Campinas, a city just north of Sao Paulo. Across the runway, red-suited construction workers abandoned their work to line up against a fence, straining to catch a glimpse of him.

Brazil's Neymar and Argentina's Lionel Messi are already here, so Ronaldo completes the top trio of World Cup superstars. Game on.

— By Gerald Imray —



RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Just outside the Maracana Stadium's main entrance, the debate rages on: Who is the greatest football player of all time?

Over here is Argentinian Daniel Gonzalez, wearing Diego Maradona's 1986 World Cup uniform and a wig with his trademark black curls and performing the midfielder's waltzing warm-up routine.

Nearby is rival Marcio Pereira da Silva, dressed in Pele's No. 10 Brazil jersey and juggling a ball with his knees and shoulders.

In the run-up to Thursday's World Cup opener, the two street artists have been competing head-to-head — for the pocket change of fans from around the world, who flock to Brazil's Temple of Soccer, below the statue of 1958 captain Hilderaldo Bellini lifting above his head the first of the country's five championship trophies.

"Maradona and Pele are making peace," Silva said with a smile, stretching his arm around Gonzalez in front of a small crowd that included Mexican soccer fans in tall sombreros, well-dressed street preachers and a sunburnt cyclist who pedaled 3,500 kilometers from Argentina. "The fight is over. Now it's time to party."

The 35-year-old Gonzalez traveled by bus from his hometown of Las Toninas, a beach resort south of Buenos Aires where he works as a leather artisan, to attend the tournament. On a good day, he said he's able to take in 100 reais ($45), enough to pay for his food and lodging at a local hostel.

While he hopes to get inside the Maracana to see Argentina play, his biggest ambition is to meet his idol, the real Maradona, who is in Rio providing commentary for Venezuela's Telesur network.

Silva, 50, says he began entertaining tourists with his freestyle juggling skills after an attempt at a professional playing career failed.

"I wasn't lucky. I had an injury. I tried very hard, but it didn't happen, so I started coaching kids and doing acrobatics," he said.

— By Joshua Goodman —



SAO PAULO (AP) — American midfielder Jermaine Jones doesn't have to worry about how he'd celebrate if he scores against Germany on June 26. He won't.

The 32-year-old, who was born in Frankfurt, played three exhibitions for the Germans in 2008. But he was among the final cuts by coach Joachim Loew from the European Championship roster, and Jones switched allegiance to the United States, where his father was born.

Jones made his U.S. national team debut in October 2010 and has gone on to score twice in 42 appearances: against Jamaica in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup and against Scotland in a 2012 exhibition.

"I think it's in respect. I grew up in this country. They gave me a lot. I have my first cap for the national team in Germany. I'm happy, too, that Joachim Loew gave me this chance," Jones said Wednesday. "So I will not celebrate if I score. But if somebody else scores, they can celebrate."

Jones said he scored against a former team once in his professional career. Playing for Eintracht Frankfurt on Feb. 10, 2007, he had an own goal at Bayer Leverkusen that put the hosts ahead in the 39th minute of a 2-2 tie.

— By Ronald Blum —


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: