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Brazilian-born trio lends Portugal a Latin tempo

MAGALIESBURG, South Africa (AP) — The samba beat has caught on in Portugal.

The fluid passing and neat ball skills of the Portuguese have earned their players the tag "Brazilians of Europe." A trio of Brazilian-born players on Portugal's World Cup team should add to that reputation.

Defender Pepe, midfielder Deco and striker Liedson all reached the elite level in the Portuguese league. When the Brazilian national team didn't call on them, they became naturalized Portuguese and represented their adopted country.

Now comes the reality of facing their original home squad when Portugal meets Brazil in Group G at this World Cup.

"I don't know what it'll be like," Deco said of the June 25 matchup in Durban. "It'll be different playing against Brazil, but I play for Portugal with all my heart and soul."

Liedson says he won't sing either country's national anthem before the match.

"I'm totally committed to Portugal. I feel like I was born here and my teammates treat me like a Portuguese," he told ESPN recently. "Even so, I won't be singing ... it wouldn't be nice of me to sing the Brazilian anthem, so I won't be singing out of respect."

It is not uncommon for Brazilians to take Portuguese nationality. They speak the same language — Brazil was a Portuguese colony until 1822 — and emigration has blended many family trees across the Atlantic.

Portugal's most successful coach was Brazilian. Luiz Felipe Scolari led Portugal to the 2004 European Championship final and to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup.

Still, some Portuguese fans were unhappy when Scolari put Deco on the field in 2003. The decision paid off, however, when Deco scored the winning goal in a rare victory over Brazil in his first appearance.

The Chelsea playmaker, who made his reputation with FC Porto's 2004 Champions League-winning team, quickly became a fan favorite and a central part of Portugal's triumphs. He was UEFA's player of the year in 2004.

His style of play is recognizably Brazilian, with the languid build-up as he scans for openings, then a sudden spurt of pace and defense-splitting pass that creates a scoring chance where none was apparent.

The Portuguese call him the "Magician" for the way he pulls off the unexpected.

Pepe, another FC Porto product who is now at Real Madrid, also claimed a regular place in the starting lineup until he was sidelined by a serious knee injury last December. It's a sign of his value to the team that Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz included him for South Africa even before he was cleared to play by doctors.

Pepe is a defender unafraid to attack. His versatility showed in Portugal's qualifying series, when he played five games at center back and six as a midfielder.

After coming on as a late substitute in a warmup match against Mozambique on Tuesday, Pepe is trying to improve his fitness before Portugal's June 15 opener against Ivory Coast.

"I really want to play for the team," Pepe said. "I've been out for six months, but everyone has been really supportive."

Liedson helped plug a gap in the Portuguese team after the retirement of all-time top scorer Pauleta at the end of the 2006 World Cup.

Liedson was the leading scorer in the Portuguese league in 2004-05 and 2006-07. He scored a crucial goal in his debut last September, coming off the bench to get the equalizer in Portugal's 1-1 draw against Denmark. That point kept alive Portuguese hopes of reaching South Africa amid a mediocre qualifying campaign.

Their performances have made the trio vital parts of Portugal's bid to win its first major trophy.

Deco, now 32, is retiring from international soccer after the World Cup. He has no regrets about playing for his adopted country.

"I've had some fantastic years with the Portuguese team," he said. "I've always been treated well, perhaps better than I ever hoped to be."