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International festival as fans gather for semi-final

Written by: Staff

MUNICH, July 5 (Reuters) Touts were busy, Mexicans wore sombreros on the U-bahn and fans with bagpipes created a Scottish flavour outside the Allianz Arena before Portugal's World Cup semi-final with France today.

There was an 'international' flavour as supporters drank soft drinks and beer in the warm evening sunshine.

The temperature was still 28 degrees Celsius as the Portuguese followers, in their red-and-green mingled happily among 'les bleus', or 'les vieux' (the veterans) as some fans' banners have now renamed the French team.

Most popular among the French replica shirts were 10 'Zidane' and 22 'Ribery', but it was clear from the array of Brazil, England, Argentina and German shirts in the crowds that this last-four clash would be attended by many neutral fans.

A gentle near-silence, compared to previous days, had fallen across the Bavarian capital following Germany's defeat by Italy the previous night, but there was plenty of remaining bonhomie.

French and Portuguese supporters crowded into Marienplatz and the cafe-packed streets around it during the afternoon. The atmosphere remained one of shared joy with the French, in particular, happy to experience an unexpected final hurrah with their ageing team.

Even the Germans joined the mood, their fans still bedecked in red, black and gold singing 'Stuttgart's nicer than Berlin' as they anticipated Saturday's third-place playoff three hours away across southern Germany.

Optimistic supporters, interested in buying a ticket for the final, were encouraged by one tout. How much? ''One thousand and five hundred euros,'' he replied.

The crowd around him disappeared quickly.

Most fans were keener to see Zinedine Zidane, in what may be his final appearance on a football field, than argue the cost.

But one fan who could afford the asking price was film director and actor Spike Lee, who visited the French squad's hotel on the eve of the game.

''He can afford it, but he will probably be invited free,'' quipped one French fan. ''Only the real fans have to pay.'' Reuters DH VP0020

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