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AP Photos: Football like a religion for Brazilians hosting soccer's World Cup

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SAO PAULO - The relationship between Brazilian fans and their football teams transcends sports. It's loyalty by history, by blood. It's an association that passes from generation to generation. The son of a Flamengo fan will be a Flamengo fan. And you can bet his son will be a Flamengo fan too.

Brazilians' love for their clubs is unconditional, enduring even hardship. Fans will stick by their teams even more strongly when teams risk being relegated to the second division. It happened time after time to Flamengo supporters when the team struggled, including last year.

"What drives the fans in Brazil is passion, is fantasy, not a good product," Brazil's Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said recently.

That passion starts on rugged dirt fields or hilly city streets where children play and practice and learn the game so deeply identified with their country.

As they grow, football stadiums are where Brazilians let it all out, with nonstop chanting and an incessant party atmosphere.

That goes for lower-division leagues as well, with obscure teams that few abroad have heard of.

Some Brazilians say, only half joking, that few in the nation need therapy — they have a match every weekend to let loose all their emotions.

It's no secret that in Brazil even the national team takes second place to clubs when it comes to the fans' passion. If you ask a fan if he would rather see the "Selecao" win the World Cup that starts here next month or see his club win the national league, many would say they'd prefer their own teams to succeed.

And if football is a religion to Brazilians. The Maracana is their church.

The famed venue in Rio, which will host the Cup championship match on July is where the fanatics flock to on Sundays to worship their clubs.

There is nothing like watching a match at a packed Maracana. American filmmaker Spike Lee will tell you that.

He was at the stadium for the Brazilian Cup final last year, when Flamengo, Brazil's most popular club, won the title.

"I can't lie. Tonight's match made our Super Bowls look like the Little League World Series," he said on his Instagram account at the time. "This place was crazy for the entire game. My ears are still ringing and it ended over (an) hour ago. I have never heard (a) crowd that loud in my life."

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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