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Brazil parties at launch of new 'mantle of love'

Brazil officially kicked off World Cup fever on Sunday in a Carnival frenzy, unveiling the national football team's new away jersey at one of the biggest street parties on the planet.

With the World Cup in South Africa only four months away, Brazil's celebrated football team got the countdown under way in the cradle of Afro-Brazilian culture, the picturesque city of Salvador on the country's sun-baked northeastern coast.

The honours fell to Carlinhos Brown (pictured), one of the deans of Afro-Brazilian music and a mainstay at Salvador's famed annual Carnival bash.

Brown became the first to don the new blue jersey when he performed for tens of thousands of revellers on the city's streets.

"This is more than just a shirt, it's a mantle of love," Brown, whose real name is Antonio Carlos Santos de Freitas, said as he tried on the shirt on his balcony overlooking a beach packed with cheering fans. "Let's hope it brings us luck," he shouted to the crowd.

It is no coincidence that the 47-year-old Brown was chosen to showcase the national team's new away jersey. Brown's lucky colour is blue, the colour of the Afro-Brazilian deity, or Orixa, that he worships as part of his religion, Candomble.

Though most people associate Brazilian soccer with its trademark bright yellow shirt with green trim, the blue jersey has been ingrained in the national psyche as a good luck charm since Brazil won its first World Cup in 1958.

That year, the Brazilian team was forced to wear blue for the first time in the final against the host country Sweden. To this day, Brazil has never lost a World Cup match in its blue shirts.