RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Everything inside and outside Maria Boreth de Souza's small home in Rio de Janeiro's lower middle class neighborhood of Olaria screams Flamengo — Brazil's most popular soccer team.
The small concrete house is painted in the team colors of red and black. The living room and bedroom are bedecked with Flamengo jerseys, banners, beer mugs and other team memorabilia. Even a curtain in front of her kitchen is a plastic Flamengo flag.
The 63-year-old Souza, who is one of the most die-hard fans of the iconic team, has over the years become an icon in her own right.
She is equally fanatical about Brazil's national team. "I pray they win the World Cup," she says of the tournament that starts in Brazil on June 12.
"If Brazil loses the tournament, the statue of Christ the Redeemer will pack his bag and leave the city for good," she said.
Dressed in a Flamengo uniform or with a team flag draped over her shoulders, Zica is a well-known sight in her neighborhood and at the Maracana stadium.
"I go to every game Flamengo plays in Maracana where I am always greeted with open arms by players and fans of Flamengo and the teams they play against. They all hug me and ask for my autograph," she said, adding that Flamengo made her an honorary member in 2010.
She said that at age 7 she fled her home because her parents mistreated her. "I lived on the streets for 10 years begging for food and money, doing odd jobs here and there and selling candies. I never stole or got involved with drugs."
Things started to change when Souza, who prefers to be called Zica, the nickname she gave herself in honor of former Brazilian football great Zico, was wandering aimlessly through the streets of Rio at age 17.
"It was Christmas and it was my birthday. I got tired and sat down on the sidewalk to rest. All of a sudden a lady tapped me on the back, asked me if I was all right and invited me to her home for dinner."
The woman was Zico's mother. And her son, a rising star in Flamengo at the time, was at the dinner.
From that day on, Zica says, her loyalty to Flamengo has never wavered.
For the next 12 years, she says, she lived in the homes of Zico's parents and of Zico doing "small chores like watering the plants and caring for children. I was never treated like a maid but as member of the family."
When she was 29, Zico's parents persuaded her to return to her home to care for her sick parents. "They died shortly after I returned and I inherited their house."
At about the same time she met and married her husband, Calitoel. They met at a Flamengo game.
They have one daughter, Vanessa, and three grandchildren. Their son, Thiago, was killed in a motorcycle accident several years ago.