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GERMANS READY FOR TITLE DEFENSE

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A confident German team left Frankfurt on Monday for Canada to begin a final week of preparation before starting the defense of its World Cup title.

"It will be a long and tough tournament, and it won't be easy to retain the title," Germany captain Lothar Matthaeus said. "Many teams have improved a lot and there are no great differences between teams. But we will do our best, we want to come back here in July as the world champions again."Several hundred fans came to bid farewell to the 22-man squad led by coach Berti Vogts as it took off for Toronto, where it will play Canada on Wednesday in its last exhibition game before the tournament.

Germany will move on to Hinsdale, Ill., on June 13 and play the tournament opener against Bolivia at Chicago four days later.

"We've prepared well and we are ready," new midfield star Mario Basler said.

At Dublin, more than 7,000 fans blocked roads and squeezed into the Dublin Airport to see off Ireland's team.

"It's a wonderful send-off, typical of the Irish fans," forward Tony Cascarino said as the players went through crowds for their flight to Orlando, Fla.

Neither the players' spirits nor the fans' enthusiasm was dampened by Ireland's 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic on Sunday in an exhibition game.

"Don't read too much into that," coach Jack Charlton said. "This result does not matter. We'll have a go out in America and we'll be difficult to beat. We have a bit of a chance."

At Rome, the Italian team met with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on the day before the Azzurri depart for their World Cup base in Somerset, N.J. Berlusconi also owns AC Milan, the European champion and three-time Italian League champion.

Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia (Let's Go, Italy) party took its name from the traditional cry of Italian soccer fans, gave team members commemorative silver medals and took them on a tour of his offices.

"If we play in the finals, then I will also be there," Berlusconi said.

Berlusconi wished the players luck and called soccer "a metaphor for life" and the players "heroes that all can recognize."

Then he bid them farewell with a tongue-in-cheek warning: "If you lose I will cut up your passports and you will not be able to return home."

At Santa Clara, Calif., Brazil was trying to rebound from a 1-1 tie with Canada on Sunday at Edmonton, Alberta.

"That wasn't our style of play," coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. "I confess I expected more from the players."

"Brazil has an obligation to beat Canada," forward Bebeto said.

In Brazil, newspapers immediately lit into the players.

"The whole team deserves to have its ears pulled," read a headline in the Rio daily O Globo, which printed a cartoon of Parreira holding a square soccer ball.

Jornal dos Sports of Rio called the team's showing "sleep-inducing, cold, apathetic and confused."