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Soccer-'Boring' Belo Horizonte joins party on World Cup semi eve

Reuters

By Andrew Cawthorne

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, July 7 (Reuters) - It has no Amazon jungle, sun-kissed beaches or Maracana stadium, and has been a somewhat staid setting for Brazil's World Cup party compared to more glamorous venues.

Yet on the eve of Tuesday's cross-continent semi-final clash between Brazil and Germany, state capital and business centre Belo Horizonte was finally getting into the party.

Locals lucky enough to have tickets were preparing face-paint, banners and their beloved Brazil shirts to turn the Mineirao stadium into an intimidating sea of yellow.

The rest of the city of nearly 2.5 million people appeared to be putting up flags, and planning house parties or bar gatherings - but certainly no work - for Tuesday afternoon.

"I can't wait for that whistle to go. I'm cooking for the whole family so they can eat and watch at the same time," said Maria Goncalves, 37, walking round a lake in a downtown park with four children carrying yellow balloons.

"Come on Brazil! Do it for history, do it for us!"

Like other foreign fans who have come to Belo Horizonte for the five games it has hosted so far, some German supporters were a bit sniffy about the lack of stereotypical 'Brazilian' atmosphere vis-a-vis images of beaches and jungle elsewhere.

They were happy enough, though, to enjoy some of its fine restaurants, Oscar Niemeyer architecture, and speciality in local caipirinha cocktails.

"It's a bit boring here frankly, we could be in Europe," said Jans Baumgartner, 25, sitting next to a fountain in the well-tended Liberty Park as morning joggers went by on cobbled streets.

"We had some great meat last night, though, and we're still shaking off the effects of a few drinks. Anyway, all we want is a Germany win. The rest doesn't matter."

"TERRIFIED" FANS

Brazilians are praying that does not happen.

If a 'Mineirazo' does occur, it could sear into the nations' psyche like the infamous 'Maracanazo' in 1950 when Uruguay shocked them in Rio de Janeiro to win the only other World Cup which Brazil has hosted.

Yet Brazil are without their star striker Neymar, out from a broken vertebra, and Germany have been looking quietly ruthless in their own progress to the semi-final.

"I'm terrified. By tomorrow night, I will either be the happiest I've ever been in my life, or I will want to crawl into a hole and sleep for a year," said Paulo Correia, 19, manning a street-stall selling Brazilian football shirts.

While Belo Horizonte may lack some of the postcard images foreigners come to Brazil for, it is a well-organized city with a wonderful climate and that is perhaps why the British have chosen it as an Olympic base for 2016.

Neither is there any shortage of football tradition.

Indeed, it is home to two of the biggest Brazilian clubs, Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro, meaning locals are passionate, opinionated and well-informed.

The atmosphere in the 58,000 Mineirao, chosen for the semi-final because it is the second biggest stadium in the country, has been phenomenal so far, especially for Brazil's heart-stopping penalty shootout win over Chile in the last 16.

The name 'Belo Horizonte', an orderly city surrounded by mountains, translates as Beautiful Horizon. Locals dream that horizon is not far off - the final at the Maracana on July 13. (Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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