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World Cup : Draw Comes as Mexico Tries to Pick Up Pieces

Times Staff Writer

They both are young, both barely 4 years old, but age is all they have in common.

He is of the Mexico of power and privilege.

She is of the Mexico of poverty and pain.

Today, he will be the focus of a worldwide television audience.

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Today, as usual, she will be ignored.

Call him Luis Javier Barroso, grandson of Guillermo Canedo, president of the Mexican World Cup Organizing Committee.

Call her one of the nameless thousands in this city of 18 million. Call her destitute.

Today at noon, he will be at the studios of Televisa, the Mexican television giant, being carefully watched by more than 500 journalists from 24 countries and by a worldwide audience in the millions.

Today at noon, she will be slumped on the sidewalk of the Avenida Juarez off the Paseo de la Reforma in the earthquake-ravaged downtown district, begging passers-by for anything they might offer.

By nightfall, he will be home, proud and pampered.

By nightfall, she will still be there, homeless and hungry.

Welcome to Mexico City 10 days before Christmas, 1985. Welcome to the World Cup draw.

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There were those, long before the September earthquakes, who said Mexico never should have been awarded the 1986 World Cup soccer tournament.

And there were those, after the Sept. 19-20 tragedy that killed more than 7,000 and left tens of thousands homeless, who said that holding international soccer’s quadrennial world championship here was now even more imperative.

Those in the latter group had history on their side. In 1960, two years before Chile was to play host to the World Cup, an equally devastating earthquake rocked that country. Carlos Dittborn, then president of the Chilean soccer association, had the following to say:

“We must have the World Cup because we have nothing . . . now, more than ever, we need the finals.”

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The same might well be said of Mexico today.

In the almost three months since the two earthquakes rolled through the Valley of Mexico, there never has been any serious doubt that Mexico would continue as the site of the May 31-June 29 tournament. None of the 12 World Cup stadiums, including three in Mexico City, were damaged, and the new seven-level, $20-million press center in the Polanco suburb northwest of the downtown area also escaped harm.

The press center was officially inaugurated Friday morning by Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid, who toured the building, greeted the Mexican national team and got a close look at the World Cup trophy.

The solid gold statuette, last won by Italy at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, had arrived Thursday night by air from Europe. Today, during the elaborate ceremonies surrounding the draw, it will be presented to FIFA President Joao Havelange by Italian soccer federation President Federico Sordillo and Italian national team Coach Enzo Bearzot.

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Havelange, the Brazilian president of world soccer’s governing body, will then turn it over to Canedo, the World Cup Organizing Committee president, and Rafael Del Castillo, president of the Mexican soccer federation.

The trophy will then be placed in a vault at the Banco Nacional de Mexico, where it will remain until it is awarded to the new world champion at Azteca Stadium on the afternoon of June 29.

Just who that champion will be is likely to be decided in part today, more than five months before the first of the 52 World Cup matches is played.

That’s how important today’s draw is.

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In Spanish, the draw is called El Sorteo, and the meaning of that--in short, “the sorting out"--comes closest to describing what the draw is all about.

Nineteen months ago, on May 2, 1984, when Austria played Cyprus in Nicosia, the qualifying for next summer’s tournament began. In all, the national teams from a record 111 nations, including the United States, started the long process of attempting to become part of the final field of 24. Mexico, as the host nation, and Italy, as the defending champion, were exempt from qualifying, meaning that the 111 countries were battling for the remaining 22 spots. Several recognized soccer powers, including the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Chile and Peru, were eliminated along the way.

On Dec. 4 in Melbourne, Australia, Scotland held Australia to a scoreless tie in the 308th and final qualifying match to be played, thereby becoming the last team to qualify.

Since then, FIFA has decided which six teams it would seed at the head of each four-team group for first-round play next summer.

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The six teams settled upon were the four semifinalists from 1982--winner Italy, runner-up West Germany, third-place Poland and fourth-placed France--along with Mexico as the host nation and Brazil as a three-time World Cup champion.

The six seeded teams will play all three of their first-round games at the same stadiums--Mexico in Mexico City, Italy in Puebla, West Germany in Queretaro, Poland in Monterrey, France in Leon and Brazil in Guadalajara.

In today’s ceremonies, which will be televised around the world to an audience estimated at half a billion, the remaining 18 countries will be drawn at random and assigned to one or another of the above six groups.

Well, not entirely at random.

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In order to prevent the world’s soccer powers from meeting in the early rounds

and knocking one another out, FIFA has also divided the 18 into three groups of six.

The first group consists of three former champions--England, Argentina and Uruguay--along with Paraguay, the Soviet Union and Spain.

The second group consists of the so-called weaker teams, first-time qualifiers Denmark and Canada, along with African representatives Morocco and Algeria and Asian representatives Iraq, also a first-time qualifier, and South Korea.

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The third group is made up of the remaining European qualifiers--Northern Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria, Belgium, Hungary and Portugal.

What young Luis Javier Barroso will be doing today is dipping his hand into containers holding the names of these countries and drawing them out. Just in what order he does that will determine who plays whom and where.

When all 18 names have been drawn, there will be six groups of four teams each, each group containing one seeded team, one team from each of the three groups.

The excitement of the draw lies in the matchups it produces. Will underdog Canada, for example, find itself having to play world champion Italy? Who will 1000-to-1 longshot Iraq, a country that reached the finals without playing a single qualifying game at home because of the Iraq-Iran war, be drawn to face? Where will England be playing? Will it be remote Monterrey, 600 miles north of here where game-time temperatures will be near 100 degrees, or will it be Toluca, just 44 miles east?

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The possibilities are intriguing, and the outcome today could well influence the outcome on June 29, the day of the final.

It was only at the last minute that the studios of Televisa were selected as the site of the draw.

Until a week or so ago, the ceremony was to have been held at the dramatic Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), the city’s showcase cultural center.

That, however, was before Mexico’s artists and intellectuals, its sculptors and musicians, its painters and poets, heard what was to take place. They were outraged, claiming that the Palace de Belas Artes would be desecrated by holding the draw there.

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“It’s a trivialization of our institutions,” painter Antonio Salazar said.

“The palace is being raped,” author Salvador Elizondo said.

In defending the decision to hold the draw there, Rafael Del Castillo, the Mexican soccer federation president, said: “It will demonstrate to the world that Mexico is on its feet despite the earthquake, and that we possess one of the jewels of art nouveau--the palace.”

It was not enough. The intellectuals threatened to rally Spanish-language artists around the world to their cause, and in the end, Mexico’s Ministry of Education refused to allow the draw to take place in the palace.

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So, today at noon, it will be at the studios of Televisa that the world’s top soccer coaches and administrators will gather. Today’s draw (live, 10 a.m. PST, on Channel 34 in Los Angeles) is the climax of a week-long series of events that have seen:

--Mexico win a four-team round-robin tournament, including the World Cup teams from Hungary, South Korea and Algeria, with a 2-0 victory over Hungary in Toluca Saturday afternoon.

--The new “Azteca” World Cup ball being introduced at a glittering luncheon hosted by adidas on Friday. The ball, designed by 26-year-old Mexico City resident Rebeca Martinez, is similar to the “Tango” ball introduced at the Argentina World Cup of 1978, except that the design also includes Aztec artwork inspired by works at the Museo Nacional de Anthropologica here.

--The inauguration of the press center and of a $3-million drug-testing center that will be used to prevent drug abuse in next year’s tournament.

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--The presentation Friday by England’s Football Assn. of a $30,000 donation to help with earthquake relief.

The memory of the earthquakes hangs heavy on the spirit here. The city, which still is clearing itself out from beneath the rubble of fallen buildings, does not yet seem to have caught the World Cup fever.

That it will do so is without question, but for now, at least, it seems more attuned to the plight of the little girl on the Avenida Juarez than of the little boy at today’s draw.


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