MEXICO CITY — The 13th World Cup soccer tournament enters a new phase today.
Now, victory is everything, and, because of that, the fear of failure and what failure might mean hangs as heavy as the yellow-brown smog that embraces this city.
It is all too easy to remember what happened here just a dozen nights ago. Columnist Alan Robinson, writing in the Mexico City News, offered the most graphic account.
With 40,000 cops guarding World Cup players and the assortment of pot-bellies running the event, there was no one around Tuesday night to protect the young girl who was gang-raped in the Paseo de la Reforma by citizens celebrating Mexico 2, Belgium 1 .
It happened within screaming distance of the Independence Monument. But the multitudes there were jumping up and down to the exhortation, "Jump or you're a queer!" so no one heard.
It was Macho Night and the crowd chanted its desire to do unto Paraguay and Iraq more or less what was being done to that girl in the muddy shrubbery close to the Cine Chapultepec.
There were fireworks, mud-fights, fistfights. Four boys fell from the monument and will never be the same again. Others climbed higher, swarming over the marble figures of the Independence heroes, breaking Hidalgo's fingers, stealing Guerrero's sword, smashing the lamp in which the flame of independence burns.
Others forced open the door at the base of the monument and tried to pry open the urns containing the ashes of great men. National symbols that are supposed to produce deep vibrations in the Mexican psyche were spattered with paint and the streets belonged to shoddy little Pique.
Gangs battled to occupy the base of the monument. Reinforcements came in stolen buses, their windows shattered. Some cars appeared to be trying to run pedestrians down. Towards dawn, the riot police moved in with canes, fists and tear-gas, whacking everything that moved. The beery bacchanal broke up as some people limped, staggered and ran from the retribution ordered by enraged authority.
All this, remember, occurred after Mexico had beaten Belgium. Just what will happen if and when Mexico loses is something authorities here would rather not think about.
But unless the extraordinary happens, Mexico will indeed be beaten sometime between now and the June 29 championship game. It might happen today, when Bulgaria is the challenger at Azteca Stadium, but it is much more likely to occur in the quarterfinals, when West Germany is almost certain to be the opponent.
Sixteen teams have survived the first round of World Cup play, a round that saw eight weaker teams eliminated. Now, the knockout phase begins. A single loss will be all it takes to eliminate another 15 teams, so in two weeks' time only one country will claim the right to be called world champion.
Ties are no longer acceptable. If games are tied at the end of regulation time, an additional 30 minutes will be played. If that fails to produce a result, the matter will be settled by penalty kicks.
The eight games of the second round offer some intriguing matchups. What follows is a brief look at each of the eight games with an educated guess at the outcome:
MEXICO vs. BULGARIA--Coach Bora Milutinovic's squad, plagued by the fear of failing in front of its own fans, has yet to produce the type of soccer of which it is capable. Mexico's first-round victories over Belgium, 2-1, and Iraq, 1-0, and its 1-1 tie with Paraguay were not exactly confidence-builders.
Still, with Hugo Sanchez returning to the lineup today at noon and the usual full house of more than 110,000 chanting its support, Mexico should be able to squeeze by Bulgaria, even if it takes penalty kicks to do so.
If the game comes down to that, will Milutinovic, who has had his players practicing penalty-taking all week, give Sanchez the chance to redeem himself for the missed penalty kick against Paraguay?
Bulgaria's record going in consists of a 1-1 tie with Italy in the tournament opener, a 1-1 tie with South Korea and a 2-0 loss to Argentina.
SOVIET UNION vs. BELGIUM--Having thrashed Hungary, 6-0, settled for a 1-1 tie with France and struggled to establish any sort of rhythm in a 2-0 win over Canada, the Soviets are a difficult team to handicap.
Belgium, the Soviets' opponent today at noon at Leon, is no easier to gauge. The Belgians lost to Mexico, 2-1, defeated Iraq by the same score and then were tied by Paraguay, 2-2, during first-round play.
Soviet spokesman Nikita Simonia said Friday that most of the World Cup games so far have been "slow, boring and of poor quality." Whether that means his team will do something about it today is unknown, but the Soviet Union should win.
ARGENTINA vs. URUGUAY--If ever there was a game that could degenerate into a brawl, this is it. The Uruguayans have been walking about with a huge chip on their collective shoulder, feeling they are being unfairly criticized for rough play.