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Brazil fans ready for some football

For a handful of fans at Fuego Churrascaria Steakhouse in Brandon, the World Cup match was supposed to be a cakewalk.

Instead, Japan scored first against beloved Brazil.

You would have thought somebody had spilled a drink in the fans' laps.

"The World Cup is the highest time for heart attacks in Brazil," said Jefferson Michaelis, a native of Sao Paulo and president of the Brazil-Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.

A growing number of Brazilians are moving to the Tampa Bay area, but they have not forgotten where home is. For them, nothing stirs up more civic pride than the Brazilian soccer team, the defending World Cup champion, which by midweek was undefeated and in cruise control.

At places like Fuego in Brandon, and Brasilia Grill and Brasa Grill Restaurant in Tampa, hard core fans - there isn't any other kind - turned out to cheer their team.

Down 1-0 last week against Japan, Michaelis wondered what effect Zico, a former Brazilian star, might have as coach of Japan's team.

Then, Brazil's ace goal scorer Ronaldo tied the game with a header with seconds to go in the first half.

"It's amazing," Michaelis said. "It's like Pele, you know It's an art."

At halftime, Michaelis took a phone call from Sergio Gluckstern in Sao Paulo, who heads the Brazilian side of the Brazil-Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.

But Brazilians weren't the only ones watching the sport.

Roberto Germain, of Puerto Rican descent and from New York, said he is a lifelong sports fan but doesn't know a lot about soccer.

"I'm probably like the average American - not up to speed," said Germain, who watched the game at Fuego.

Jolie Gonzalez moved to Tampa seven years ago from Chicago to start a magazine called Latin Times. She described herself as more of a basketball fan than anything else.

Fuego's owner is Colombian by heritage and grew up in New York. Even so, he felt like part of the action. He opened up his restaurant an hour early for the game.

"I am pulling for my people," Ruiz said of his customers.

In the second half, Gilberto scored Brazil's third goal off a pass from superstar Ronaldinho

"Tomorrow is going to be a holiday in Brazil," Michaelis said.

A packed crowd at Brasilia Grill in Tampa also enjoyed what turned out to be a 4-1 rout of Japan by game's end.

"They loved it," said Marjorie Matos, who works the counter at Brasilia Grill, located on N Armenia Avenue in Wellswood.

The Brasa Grill Restaurant on Waters Avenue in Town 'N Country requires reservations when Brazil plays. Tickets run $25 per person and include a pitcher of beer.

Without reservations, the restaurant's 120-seat capacity would quickly be overrun, said manager Dino Ribiero.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or