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The big day has arrived! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil celebrates World Cup final

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RIO DE JANEIRO - Kick off in football's big day finally arrived.

Tens of thousands of fans flocked to the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina on Sunday, joining millions around Brazil and across South America who celebrated the last game of the monthlong football festival.

With Argentina right next door to Brazil, it was no surprise that Rio de Janeiro was completely awash in the sky-blue jerseys of that nation's team, with upward of 70,000 "hermanos" flooding into the seaside city and making themselves at home.

Fans started partying hard early on the golden sands of Copacabana beach, swigging beer under a hot tropical sun.

Javier Gonzalez travelled 40 hours by car from Buenos Aires to get to Rio in time for the match. He and four friends held out hopes of finding tickets for the final — but only had $230 a piece to spend, far less than what scalped tickets are going for. But he reckoned Brazilians with tickets will soon be desperate to be rid of them.

Gonzalez said that if Argentina loses, he'd head home tomorrow.

"But if they win," he added hopefully, "we might not leave at all."

German fan Andreas Howedes, 28, headed to his entry gate at the Maracana stadium relatively confident Germany would win — but scared that Argentine star Lionel Messi might have a spectacular game and help his side emerge victorious.

"My hope is 2-0 for Germany and my fear is we have travelled so far for a big loss," he said. "We have a great team, a great defence and play with discipline. I'm putting all my hopes in our defence to stop Messi."

There was a heavy security presence around the stadium and across Rio. More than 25,000 police and soldiers were on guard just for the game, according to officials, providing the biggest security detail in Brazilian history.

Inside the stadium, world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose nation will host the 2018 World Cup, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were sitting in the stands with FIFA's President Sepp Blatter, watching some pre-match entertainment.

With Brazil roundly praised for how it has staged the tournament, considered by many fans to be among the most exciting in recent decades, authorities were taking no chances of anything ruining their big day.

Around the Maracana, where 74,000 spectators crammed in for the final, lines of security forces wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying rifles stood watch. Roads were closed and military helicopters buzzed overhead, with Brazilian authorities still wary about violent protests that marred last year's Confederations Cup warm-up event.

Several hundred protesters gathered at a plaza near Maracana a few hours before kickoff, and clashed with police as they neared security perimeters set up roughly 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) from the stadium. Police fired stun grenades in an effort to disperse the march, which didn't interrupt fans trying to get to the match.

Across the road from the stadium, Argentina supporters danced and sang in a cafe, eagerly awaiting their chance to win the World Cup for the first time since Diego Maradona's team in 1986.

"Messi will lift it! Messi will lift it!" the Argentines chanted, hoping that their star player will pick up the solid gold trophy at the end.

For the host country, the football ended in disappointment with a 7-1 rout at the hands of the Germans in the semifinals, but the tournament — with one game to go — has been hailed as a great success.

"We did ok, yes?" said a Brazilian walking around the outskirts of the Maracana wearing his team's canary-yellow shirt.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Clendenning and Stephen Wade contributed to this report.

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