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SOCCER IS A FRENZY
Tex Maule
June 22, 1970
Always a sport that incites extravagant response, it provoked an entire nation to a vast emotional spree at the World Cup competition in Mexico as the home team enjoyed some early successes
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June 22, 1970

Soccer Is A Frenzy

Always a sport that incites extravagant response, it provoked an entire nation to a vast emotional spree at the World Cup competition in Mexico as the home team enjoyed some early successes

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The population of Mexico City could not have cared less whether their team had defeated El Salvador, 11 garbage cans or England. The Mexicans poured into the streets, ignoring a drenching rain. They climbed the portico over the entrance to the Maria Isabel Hotel, press headquarters for the World Cup, and dislodged a 12-foot-in-diameter fiberglass soccer ball. Then they rolled it two miles down 20th of November Street to the principal square of the city—the Zocalo—where they tore it to bits for souvenirs. For the most part the celebration was innocuous enough, but an ominous note of violence crept in later as the Mexican tipples of tequila, pulque and beer began to take effect. Herminio Gonzalez, apparently an objective soccer fan, had the poor judgment to tell his friend, Epigmenio Sanchez Luna, that Mexico's victory over El Salvador did not prove much, since the Salvadorean team was, in his words, "a lemon." Gonzalez was shot through the heart for his honesty. Three other Mexicans met violent deaths in soccer arguments during the first two weeks. In El Salvador no one was murdered, but the defeat caused a suicide. Eighteen-year-old Amelia Bolanosafter, watching El Salvador lose on TV, retired to her room and shot herself through the right temple.

In the other venues in Mexico the jubilation was not quite as uncontrolled. In León, the pedestrian shoe capital of the nation, West Germany demonstrated a clear superiority over the competition, and a surprisingly strong Peruvian team moved into the quarterfinals with the Germans. Morocco, whose coach had said earlier that he realized his was the "funny team" in the tournament and that the team had come to learn, not to win, played an inspired, scrambling game against the Germans to hold them to a 2-1 victory, then subsided into learning. In Toluca-Puebla, Israel, a team of amateurs, held Sweden and Italy to draws, but the Italians and Uruguay finally qualified also.

Mexico initiated another night of carnival by beating a rough Belgium team 1-0 in Mexico City, and entering the quarterfinal with Russia. Six more were killed. At the time one shuddered at the thought of what would happen if the Mexicans went on and won the Cup. "If Mexico wins," said one happy official, "we will have another revolution."

The last revolution was in 1910, but the next one will be delayed at least four more years, because the hosts were eliminated in the quarterfinal round on Sunday. An Italian team that had been improving steadily over the course of the tournament won easily 4-1 as its star, Luigi Riva, scored two goals.

On the same day the celebrated English defense failed for the first time. England led West Germany 2-0 at the half, but yielded two goals to send the match into overtime. Then the superb Gerd Muller scored his eighth goal on the Mexican scene to knock out the defending champions. Before the match the Germans had received a cable from Chancellor Willy Brandt urging them to avenge their overtime defeat by England in the 1966 Cup final in London. They did not match the score of that defeat (4-2), but the 3-2 victory was good enough to put them in the semifinal round against Italy.

Brazil faced Uruguay in the other semifinal after beating Peru and Russia respectively, and the pairings assured a Europe-Latin American final this week. As Pelé continued to perform in the style that has earned him worldwide accolade—he was the key player in all four of Brazil's goals against Peru—the Brazilians were considered strong favorites to win the Cup.

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