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BRAZIL BEAT: Ghana president calls players to reassure them over bonuses, get them on a plane

Ghana players needed a phone call from their country's president to get them on a plane to Brasilia for the decisive group game against Portugal after an argument with officials over unpaid bonuses.

The Ghana Football Association said President John Dramani Mahama "personally spoke with the players" to reassure them they would get their money, avoiding an embarrassing squad strike.

According to Ghanaian media, the money — between $1.7 and $2.3 million — is now being flown over to Brazil in a specially chartered plane because the players didn't trust that officials would make the electronic transfers.

Conceding the players were "agitated" over the unpaid bonuses, the GFA says the squad is now focused on Thursday's Group G game.

Player bonuses have been a big bone of contention for African teams at this World Cup. Before the tournament, Cameroon's squad refused to board a plane to Brazil until their bonuses were improved, forcing the federation to take out a loan to pay them. There have also been rumblings of discontent over pay in the Nigeria and Ivory Coast camps.

— By Gerald Imray — www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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HOOPS IN THE PARK

SAO PAULO (AP) — No matter where you go in this massive city, you seemingly can't get far away from soccer. Wherever you look, people are watching it and kids are playing it.

At first glance, Parque Ibirapuera appears to be no exception. Sao Paulo's answer to New York's Central Park is filled with locals kicking balls across long stretches of grass and inside enclosed dirt fields. The guards at the gate are watching World Cup matches on an iPhone.

But deeper inside the 545-acre park, finally another sport is revealed. About a dozen boys and girls are playing basketball on two concrete courts with chain-link nets. The scene is similar to any outdoor court you'd see in America — boys with baggy shorts posting up, driving to the rim and talking trash. But there's still a Brazilian twist: One of the younger boys is shooting hoops with a black and white soccer ball, not an orange basketball.

When asked if basketball was also popular in the land of football, one smiled, made a gesture with his fingers and said: "a little."

— By Aron Heller - www.twitter.com/aronhellerap