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In Valencia, Spain late last Friday night, there was a double fiesta celebrating the feast of San Juan and the last game in Round 1 of the finals of el Mundial, soccer's World Cup. The locals, waving high the red and yellow flag of their nation, crammed the streets and plazas until the small hours despite mucho calor, heat so intense that even the Spaniards called it crazy for this time of year.
There was mucho calor in Cup play, too. The first round had been both the best and biggest in history, with 24 national teams battling to remain in the chase for perhaps the most prestigious and ugliest trophy in sport. With little countries like Algeria stunning the soccer world and only Brazil and England of the six seeds unbeaten and untied after Round 1, it was beginning to look as if expansion from 16 to 24 sides had been a smart idea. Certainly the game that preceded the celebration in Valencia had been a dandy. Only a few hours earlier, in a true shocker, Spain had been humbled by lightly regarded Northern Ireland.
The Spaniards had been predicting disaster for their team for close on two weeks, ever since, in front of King Juan Carlos and 45,000 of his mortified subjects, Spain had salvaged a tie against Honduras. The host country had kept its hopes alive by beating Yugoslavia 2-1—with the help of a dubious penalty. But now the laid-back Northern Irish—"Sure, the holiday could last a little bit longer," said Defender John McClelland—had beaten Spain 1-0 and become the surprise winner of Group Five.
Nevertheless, Spain qualified, if barely, for the second round, which was just as well, because there had been mucho calor on FIFA ( F�d�ration Internationale de Football Association), the sport's governing body. Spain had been expected to get as far as the semifinals, or Round 3. A lot of gate receipts would have been lost had the hosts been knocked out in the opening round.
Spain's defeat by Northern Ireland was only the last of the astonishing results that occurred in what observers were calling the Third World Cup. Among other miracles, there was the first victory for Islam in Spain since Ferdinand and Isabella drove the Moors out in 1492. The outcome was, unbelievably, Algeria 2, West Germany 1. The great Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, successor in the German imperial line to Franz Beckenbauer, was relegated to a supporting role on the sports pages by a slight, mustachioed fellow named Lakhdar Belloumi, Africa's player of the year, who was instrumental in the first Algerian goal and scored the second.
After that national disaster, a mob of German fans besieged their team's hotel in Gijon. "Burn them!" roared Herr Hermann Ems, who had come all the way from Lower Saxony. By the middle of the round, though, it seemed that the Teutons' panic had been premature. Austria had put down Algeria 2-0, while the West Germans had overrun Chile 4-1. RUMMENIGGE, WIR LIEBEN DICH, rhapsodized a banner as West Germany- Chile began, and the blond idol requited that love with a scintillating hat trick. That night Rummenigge's fans drank Gijon dry of beer, as well they might have: Their team and Austria's now seemed ready to qualify from Group Two.
Though the Algerians were still underestimated, they refused to lie down. They beat Chile 3-2, and so on last Friday a most intriguing situation had evolved. In Group Two's final game, the Germans had to beat Austria to advance to Round 2—and the Austrians themselves weren't entirely sure of getting there, either. Had they lost to West Germany by as many as three goals, Algeria would have had the same record but would advance on the basis of total goals.
All flights to Gijon were booked solid, and the city's El Molin�n stadium was sold out. This could be the match of the round.
But what's the sound of one hand washing the other? For half the game the 43,000 fans, most of them Spaniards, kept up a mighty, howling protest over the outrage that was being committed against Algeria.
The game started promisingly. The Germans swept down on a panicky Austrian defense. In the second minute, Paul Breitner headed a shot against the crossbar, and in the 10th, Pierre Littbarski went dancing down the left wing to cross and leave Horst Hrubesch an easy header into the net. At that point the few Algerians in the stands began visualizing a massive West German victory. And that would mean that an African team would make Round 2 for the first time ever.