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World Cup party already underway before kickoff

By Julian Linden

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - From Buenos Aires to the Brandenburg Gate, millions of people were getting ready to watch Sunday's World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Brazil.

In Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting the final, the party was already in full swing, with soccer fans flocking to Copacabana Beach and flooding the city's bars and restaurants ahead of the 3.00 p.m. EDT kickoff.

A massive security operation was in force outside the famous Maracana Stadium - where 10 heads of state were attending the match along with nearly 75,000 fans.

Although the host nation are not playing in the final, Brazil has transformed the event into one massive carnival, with celebrations taking place across the entire country, from the favelas to the Amazon.

A tournament that has exceeded everyone's expectations and been widely deemed to be the best ever World Cup, will reach its climax with a game that has all the makings of a classic between two great European and South American heavyweights.

Germany and Argentina have already played each other in two previous World Cup finals, Argentina winning 3-2 in Mexico City in 1986 and Germany triumphing 1-0 in Rome four years later.

Whether Sunday's game is a high-scoring thriller like 1986 or a defensive chess match as in 1990 remains to be seen, but one thing for sure is that the clash is set up for a battle between the best all-round team and the world's best player.

IMPECCABLE FORM

Germany have been in impeccable form throughout the tournament and have no apparent weaknesses, while Argentina have clawed their way into the final, relying heavily on their superstar forward Lionel Messi.

Despite being heavily marked, Messi has scored four times in the tournament and carries the hopes of a nation that won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986 but has not made a final in 24 years and has been suffering from economic turmoil.

While the Argentina team have struggled at times in Brazil, Germany have flourished, scoring 10 goals in the last three games, including seven in their eye-popping win over Brazil in the semi-finals.

After a week of rain, Mother Nature also looked kindly on the biggest single sporting event in the world, leaving Rio bathed in sunshine in the lead-up to the match as fans began to make their way toward the stadium.

    “We are really excited and it is great," said Germany fan Elke Dambeck. "The weather is brilliant and now we just have to play like we did against Brazil, then it will all be fine.”

Another Germany supporter, who identified herself only as Stephanie, said it was a once in a lifetime experience.

“Unbelievable, I don’t think I will be able to believe I was here until I get home and see the photos," she said.

"You only have this much luck once in your life and we are lucky enough to be here today.”

JUBILANT MOOD

Argentina fans were also in jubilant mood, chanting songs and joining in with supporters from all over the world, sipping on caipirinha cocktails.

    “I hope that we win," said Diego. "I don’t like to talk about possible goals, I just want Argentina to win. That’s all I want.”

Another fan, Horacio, added: “I made a lot of sacrifices to be here and I hope that the players will put in the same effort on the field so that Argentina are champions again.”

While the festivities in the samba nation were infectious, Brazilian security were keeping a close eye on everything.

Thousands of police, including many on horseback, were stationed at key areas across the city, with the streets around the Maracana cordoned off.

Helicopters were flying overhead while riot police were on standby in case of any trouble with the guest list for the match including Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, Russia President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South Africa President Jacob Zuma.

Colombian pop star Shakira will headline the lavish pre-match ceremony which will also feature Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana and Brazilian singer Ivete Sangalo.

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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