AT MEXICO'S WORLD CUP: SUNSHINE AND SHADOWS
The first unflawed, undiluted moment of joy in the 1986 World Cup came near the end of Saturday's opening game between Italy and Bulgaria. The favored Italians, leading 1-0, fell into a classic error. They quit their fast-breaking attacks from the wings and dropped back into a nine-man defense. With 5:20 left, Bulgaria's Nasko Sirakov slipped between two defenders, picked up a cross from Radslav Zoravkov and headed the ball into the net. Immediately, Sirakov, wild with elation, rushed to the sideline, vaulted a low wall, ran a crazy course in front of the stands, jumped back onto the field and ended his performance with a forward roll, arms outstretched in a gesture of sheer joy.
Until that moment, joy had been a commodity in short supply at the 13th World Cup. There had been a shadow on the tournament from the day in 1983 when it was awarded to Mexico after Colombia withdrew as host nation—ironically on the grounds of national poverty. Even before Mexico's devastating earthquakes last September, even before the country's oil boom went bust, there had been serious doubts about its ability to stage the Mundial in a manner consistent with the vastness of the event.
The stringent security outside Azteca stadium for the opening ceremonies on Saturday was a marked contrast to the festive air inside, where 110,000 fans were treated to a pageant of brilliant color. One moment of feeling came when Miguel de la Madrid, president of Mexico, addressed, and was howled down by, the crowd. A fan explained, "It's the only way we can say anything about him. At least publicly."
That this dissident was in the stadium at all meant that he was one of the wealthy. His ticket cost 30,000 pesos (about $57), which would be beyond the means of the fellows who hang out in a lower-class drinking establishment called Las Flores de Mayo in Coyoacan, a southern suburb of Mexico City. Most of them subsist on the minimum wage of roughly $4 a day. Las Flores will be doing big business, simply because it has a television set. It is a black-and-white 15-inch model, but that is one TV more than most of the clientele have at home. If they have a home. Tens of thousands of Mexicans, most of them earthquake victims, still live in makeshift shelters.
Nevertheless, in Las Flores the men—a sign outside bans women as well as minors—are a cheerful bunch. Said Ignacio Martinez, a 55-year-old gardener, "Sport is my life. Everybody here is happy!"
Many Mexicans watch the games on vast screens that have been erected in three public areas of Mexico City. One such is in the neighborhood of San Juan del Aragon, where some 7,000 people gathered Saturday. They watched passively—until that game-tying Bulgarian goal. Then they exploded with joy, remembering that in the 1970 World Cup, also held in Mexico, Italy had eliminated the host team, 4-1, in the quarterfinals.
On Sunday Brazil, the second favorite among Mexicans after the home team, beat Spain 1-0, and the French team, whose perceived arrogance hasn't endeared them to the locals, came close to being humiliated by a gallant young Canadian goalie named Paul Dolan before winning in a 1-0 squeaker.
And so, in Garibaldi Square, the mariachi bands played and young people honked their car horns and chanted Meh-he-co! It finally seemed as if the World Cup had begun.
THE PUBLIC DEFENDER