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BRAZILIAN FANS TURN GAMES INTO CARNIVALS

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Or, as was the case Friday afternoon, SAO PAULO ALTO, Calif. - Brazil took over the neighborhood - at least for the afternoon. If you didn't like samba music you were in trouble. The coup was successful. The atmosphere was carnival. It was Haight-Ashbury all over again. You could take a trip and not even have to live the Bay Area.

If the world were a soccer ball, Brazil would be emperor. All taxes would roll toward Rio. Pele would be the supreme court. Everybody would wear hats with fruit and soccer balls in them. The penalty for not wearing yellow and green and stopping everything when the national team played would be a red card for life.As was obvious yesterday in Stanford Stadium, where Brazil faced Cameroon in a World Cup match, soccer for Brazilians is not a spectator sport. Just sitting there is a workout, particularly if you happen to be the Brazilian playing the drum. Apparently there is an unwritten rule - or perhaps it is written - that once the match begins the drum, somewhat like CPR, cannot stop.

This creates a continuous beat that allows any and all spectators to jump up spontaneously and dance the samba, or stretch, or scream, or gesture wildly at the referee, or blow the whistles they all were apparently given at birth, or wave the giant flags they all were apparently given at birth.

A Brazilian soccer crowd is unlike any sporting crowd you've ever seen, unless maybe you count a Grateful Dead concert.

Brazilians at a soccer game make David Letterman look introverted. They make Liberace look reserved. They make Mets fans look demure and subdued.

This includes the Brazilians in the press box. Yesterday I was sitting next to a Brazilian journalist from Sao Paulo who had this observation 39 minutes into the first half when the great Brazilian striker, Romario, scored the first of Brazil's three goals.

"AYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

As he said the above, the reporter rose to his feet and clasped both of hands above his head. He was wearing an official yellow Brazilian jersey with a No. 10 (Pele's number) on the back and he was also wearing a yellow and green cap that said "Brasil."

He was wearing his colors proudly, in other words, and either he was unaware of the American custom of "no cheering in the press box" or he felt that in this case the rule did not apply on account of the recent Brazilian takeover of Northern California.

"They say 20,000 Brazilians came here for the Cup," he told me after he settled down. "But I don't agree. I think there's more."

Certainly the green and yellow jerseys in the crowd backed him up. Either you were from Brazil or somebody gave you the yellow shirt and the drum and taught you how to dance and wear the hat.

On Friday, there was plenty to dance about. Cameroon played the perfect straight man as the Brazilian team remained unscored-on in the World Cup. The odds-makers who made Brazil the favorite are so far looking as good as the samba line. If the 2-0 opening win over Russia and yesterday's 3-0 win over Cameroon are any indication, those three World Cup titles won when Pele was playing (1958, 1962 and 1970) will finally have company.

In the effervescent Romario - who, like Pele (and countless other Brazilians too numerous to mention), goes by just one name - the Brazilians have a genuine superstar. His goal against Cameroon was his second in two World Cup games, and it's his speed and deft ball-handling abilities that help set Brazil soccer a world apart.

Romario's stature in Brazil was underscored this past winter by two rather dramatic events. The first was the abducting of his father by kidnappers who hoped to share in the considerable Romario fortune. The second was the release of his father when the Brazilian mob leaned on the kidnappers to back off. The mob had a lot of soccer fans, and didn't want to disrupt the Brazilian team so close to the World Cup.

The Brazilian journalist from Sao Paulo swore it was a true story - just before Romario scored and he said "AYEEEEEEEEEEE!" I don't know about you, but I tended to believe him.