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All Was Quiet On The Soccer Front - And Then...

June 5, 1986

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Teams from all over the globe had been playing their hearts out for days in the world’s premier sporting event but normally raging soccer passions here were subdued until Mexico met Belgium.

Then, after the national team’s 2-1 World Cup victory, fans unleashed the wave of mixed rejoicing and hysteria known here as the ″locura,″ which sent more than 100,000 boisterous people cascading through the streets in joy.

It was the first celebration in Mexico City since Sept. 19, when the Cocos plate cracked and shifted underground, setting off an earthquake that wrecked buildings across the city and killed at least 7,000 people.

From the opening kickoff at Aztec Stadium until police violently ended the celebration early Wednesday, 14 hours later, the locura reigned in the Zona Rosa tourist district, near an independence memorial known as the Angel.

At least 200 people were injured and 81 arrested for offenses including fighting, public nudity and drunkenness, a police spokesman who asked not to be identified said Wednesday.

By brand new parks where buildings used to stand, by the sad debris of earthquake-wrecked buildings awaiting demolition, the mostly youthful crowd moved toward the heart of the celebration. Chanting ″Mexico 3/8 Mexico 3/8 Mexico 3/8″ they jumped from vehicles to dance in exuberant conga lines, pulling passing foreigners into their ranks.

Although there have been a number of smaller parties each night since the 24 World Cup contenders began playing each other here, many Mexicans had believed the earthquake and the country’s oppressive economic troubles meant the locura would never erupt.

Official souvenirs, featuring ″Pique,″ mascot of the 1986 World Cup, collected dust on store counters.

Although thousands of fans are here from all over the world to cheer for their home teams in soccer’s quadrennial international championship, the mood is quiet, a far cry from 1970, the last time Mexico was host to the tournament.

″I love soccer, but there’s just too much to worry about this year,″ taxi driver Florencio Mendoza said recently. ″I believe in the team but, well, I don’t know if Mexico is in a condition to succeed.″

For almost four years, Mexicans have faced potential economic disaster.

A long period of steady advance was cut short in 1982 with the onset of the ″crisis,″ the local shorthand for Mexico’s inability to pay off a crushing and still growing foreign debt.

Inflation since has been running at about 60 percent a year and above. Two increases in the minimum wage earlier this year were offset by overnight hikes in basic food prices. The peso has slid from 240 to the dollar a year ago to 585 this week.

Foreign visitors here to cheer on their teams were amazed by the locura as it erupted around them Tuesday.

″I don’t thnk a northern European country will ever experience this kind of warm-blooded emotional thing,″ said Morten Faester of Denmark. ″It’s wonderful.″

″It’s amazing if you imagine how it will be if they win the final,″ said Michael Knudsen, another Dane.

Mexico is scheduled to play Paraguay on Saturday, and officials are already gearing for what might happen after that match.

″They are going to reinforce,″ the police spokesman said. ″If Mexico wins on Saturday, the fiesta is going to be bigger and in addition, it’s a day off (from work).″