Soccer fans visiting Recife for the World Cup may be unaware that the city is not just famous for football -- it is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to swim due to the risk of shark attacks.
Supporters strolling on the sandy beaches of the city, which will host five World Cup matches, are being met by a forest of warning signs in English and Portuguese, and newly built watchtowers where lifeguards keep a close eye on bathers.
The Boa Viagem beach suffers a high number of shark attacks and an above-average number of fatalities, and local authorities are keen to avoid any incidents with unsuspecting soccer fans during the World Cup.
"In the 20 kilometres of beach we have in the state of Pernambuco, we have an atypical concentration of sharks, above the world average," local lifeguard captain Helder Silva told Reuters in an interview at one of the many watchtowers along the shore. "Across these 20 kilometres of coastline we've had 59 incidents over 21 years, which is considered above the world average for attacks."
The waters off the coast of the capital of the Pernambuco region are mainly populated by bull and tiger sharks, which Silva says are attracted by the jetsam emptied into the sea by two local rivers.
"Tourists often are not aware of the problem with sharks here, nor do they know the prevention measures. So we've needed to reinforce our efforts," Silva said. "The World Cup is going to happen during the rainy season here, which is the period of greater risk of shark attack."
PLAYERS' UNION MIFFED AT MANAUS
The world players' union FIFPro has criticised conditions in Manaus as being unsuitable for World Cup matches after a threadbare pitch added to concerns over heat and humidity.
"The players deserve a quality playing surface and conditions that reflect what is meant to be the world's premier football event. This is simply not the case in Manaus," said FIFPro in a statement. "Nobody wants to see the players and the spectacle in general suffer."
The grass at the Amazonia arena is threadbare in places and discoloured in others. Near one goalkeeper's area patches of sand could clearly be seen poking through.
Manaus, which lies at the heart of the Amazon rain forest and swelters in high heat and humidity year-round, will stage four matches, starting with England v Italy on Saturday.
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose side face Honduras in another match in the city, has already complained about playing "in the middle of the jungle", saying the decision was "almost irresponsible."
"Putting a player in harm's way is shockingly irresponsible and not how the game ought to be run," FIFPro said. "Cooling breaks are important, but when and how often they're introduced during a match is also open to interpretation in order to ensure optimal protection for the players"
FIFA guidelines state that cooling breaks are considered when Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), which takes into account heat, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover, is above 32 Celsius.
ARGENTINES LAUGH OFF CRITIQUE
Argentine players laughed off criticism of their supposed defensive weakness Thursday and vowed there would be no repeat of their 2010 World Cup quarterfinal thrashing by Germany.
Having waltzed through the early rounds of the South Africa World Cup, then manager Diego Maradona's team were humiliated 4-0 by the Germans in a game that exposed what many see as the frailty behind arguably the world's greatest forward line.
"We know what happened, it's in the past. We won't repeat that," centre back Ezequiel Garay said after a lively training session in front of hundreds of reporters in Belo Horizonte, where Argentina is based for the tournament. "Obviously, we have a very offensive team, but we know our rivals are strong, so we will be defending well also and doing the dirty work," added Garay, who plays for Benfica and hails from national team captain Lionel Messi's home town of Rosario.
Messi, under enormous pressure to add a World Cup trophy to his otherwise impeccable haul of honours, looked relaxed and happy during training. He did, though, balloon one shot high over the bar to the dismay of a few fans who had sneaked into Atletico Mineiro's training ground.
"He'll handle the expectations," said team mate Lucas Biglia. "We just have to help him feel comfortable and happy so that on the pitch he can make the difference."
MEXICO WILL 'FIGHT TO DEATH'
Mexico will "fight to the death" in their World Cup Group A opener against Cameroon Friday and make their fans proud, coach Miguel Herrera has promised.
"Every training session leaves me easy and calm knowing every player will leave their last bead of sweat and last breath on the field to please the Mexican fans," Herrera told a news conference on Thursday. "We will fight to the death."
The coach, who took over the national team after three predecessors departed last year, said he planned to deploy two attack-minded wingers and pair Oribe Peralta and Giovani Dos Santos up front.
Herrera, whose decision means Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez will start on the bench, said he would also select a five-man backline to counter the attacking threat of a Cameroon side led by frontman Samuel Eto'o.
"We will have five in the back to have a bit of cover," Herrera said.
BELGIAN BORED ON BENCH
Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen described himself the worst bench-sitter in the world Thursday in a clear indication of where he wants to be when his team play their opening World Cup game against Algeria.
"Everyone wants to play at the World Cup and I myself am the worst bench-sitter in the world because I want to play every game," he told a news conference at the Belgian base at Mogi das Cruzes before a closed-doors training session.
Vertonghen has captain Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen ahead of him in the pecking order, forcing him to play for his country on the left side of defence.
"I have grown in my game over the last year on the left flank," he said. "I realise I'll never be the best left back in the world but I can be of value for the team.
"To be able to start a game at the World Cup would be an unbelievable experience."
Belgium will be among the last World Cup sides to play their first match, against the Algerians in Group H on Tuesday.
GERMANY'S NEUER OK TO PLAY
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has recovered from his shoulder injury and will start Monday's World Cup match against Portugal, coach Joachim Loew said Thursday.
Germany captain Philipp Lahm, who was also struggling with an injured ankle, is likely to play a holding midfield position rather than in the back four, a visibly relieved Loew told a news conference ahead of his team's Group G opening game against Portugal in Salvador.
"The injury situation is causing me less and less concern," Loew said. "Manuel Neuer took part in training today and he is ready to go on Monday."
Neuer, Germany's No. 1 goalkeeper for the last four years and pillar of their defence, injured his shoulder in Bayern Munich's German Cup final victory over Borussia Dortmund last month.
The injuries had cast a shadow over Germany's World Cup training camp.
Neuer did not play in the friendlies against Cameroon and Armenia. Lahm, considered one of the world's best right backs, played in midfield against Armenia.
ETO'O ACCUSED OF 'TREASON'
Cameroon's affection for its favourite footballing son has turned sharply with striker Samuel Eto'o accused by local media of "treason" after leading strike action by their World Cup squad at the weekend.
Eto'o's tantrums and temperamental behaviour have long been tolerated because of his success on the field but it seems his country has had enough on the eve of their opening game against Mexico at the World Cup.
A strike by the World Cup-bound squad over money meant their expensively-chartered airline took off for Brazil almost 24 hours late as the players attempted to squeeze more appearance money out of their federation.
But what has really rankled with the fans and media was their refusal to receive a symbolic flag from prime minister Philemon Yang at the end of their last warm-up international against Moldova in Yaounde last Saturday.
HERNANDEZ BENCHED FOR OPENER
Javier "Little Pea" Hernandez, Mexico's third most prolific international goal scorer of all time, has been left out of the starting line-up for Friday's World Cup opener against Cameroon at Dunas arena.
Hernandez had a disappointing season for Manchester United and coach Miguel Herrera has, as expected, preferred the partnership of Oribe Peralta and Giovani dos Santos to start up front in the Group A match.
"The competition is very tough," Herrera told a news conference at the stadium Thursday. "The team that started against Portugal made me very happy on the offensive. There was good chemistry between Dos Santos and Oribe."
Mexico lost 1-0 to Portugal in a World Cup warm-up in Foxborough, Mass., last week.
Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa played the second half as a substitute and did enough to earn the starting spot ahead of Jose Corona, who had started the match against the Portuguese.