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“With a horrible headache,” added the mayor.

The city of 1.4 million people is hosting four group games _ France-Honduras, Netherlands-Australia, South Korea-Algeria, Argentina-Nigeria _ as well as the last 16 knockout games between the winner of Group G, likely to be Germany, and the runner-up from Group H.

All matches are at Internacional’s newly refurbished Beira-Rio stadium, which of course has red seats. Keeping things fair, teams will train across town at Gremio’s arena, which _ you guessed it _ has blue seats.

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YOUNG AMERICANS:

Thanks to American GIs, “Natal was the first place in Brazil to wear jeans, chew chewing gum and wear Ray-Bans,” says Mayor Carlos Eduardo Nunes Alves.

Quite a coincidence, then, that the U.S. team will play one of its World Cup group games in the Atlantic coast city.

Its location on Brazil’s northeastern bulge made Natal strategically important in World War II, because it was the closest jumping-off point in Latin America to Africa, 1,800 miles to the east across the Atlantic.

Watching Brazilians turn a day at the beach into art, surfing the warm waves and frolicking in the sun, it’s now hard to imagine how important Natal was to the war effort. Its Parnamirim field became the largest U.S. air base outside the United States, a “Trampoline to Victory” for troops and supplies heading for combat in Africa, Europe or Asia.

The city has a “Miami beach,” a name which local tour guides say was left behind by GIs who used to bathe there.

The mayor was skeptical of that claim. But “a lot of Americans married women from here,” he said.

During the World Cup, his City Hall plans to commemorate the American connection by making postcards of a photo taken when Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Getulio Vargas of Brazil met in Natal in January 1943 to cement their nations’ wartime cooperation.

The United States plays Ghana at the Arena Das Dunas, an airy bowl naturally cooled by sea breezes, with white roof arches reminiscent of wind-sculptured sand dunes and 42,000 seats in the light and dark blues of the Atlantic. Other games are Mexico-Cameroon, Japan-Greece and Italy-Uruguay.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester