Paraguay Gets Dramatic Save, Tie With Mexico

Times Staff Writer

If the 1986 World Cup had been lacking in drama, it made up for it here Saturday afternoon.

The box score will show that Mexico and Paraguay played to a 1-1 tie before an Azteca Stadium crowd of 114,580, but that will tell nothing about the game.

Unmentioned, for instance, will be the fact that Hugo Sanchez, the player who is supposed to lead Mexico to World Cup glory, missed a penalty kick in the game’s dying seconds that would have assured his team a spot in the next round.

Unmentioned will be the astonishing save made by Paraguayan goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez, who flung himself to his right and palmed Sanchez’s shot onto the post and back out.


Unmentioned will be the fact that the Mexican fans showered Fernandez and the other Paraguayan players with beer and debris as they left the field, and that Fernandez responded with taunts and what are perhaps best described as arm gestures of an unsporting nature.

Unmentioned, too, will be the fact that Sanchez, whose dismal performance also included his second yellow caution card in two games, will consequently have to sit out Mexico’s next game, against Iraq.

And finally, also missing in the cold statistical information will be the fact that English referee George Courtney was called upon to stop the ill-tempered match almost every minute. In addition to Sanchez, four other players were cautioned, and no fewer than 57 fouls were called.

The game began dramatically enough when Luis Flores gave Mexico the lead in the third minute with a shot from close range that Fernandez had no chance of stopping.

The Paraguayans, led by two former New York Cosmos--Julio Cesar Romero and Roberto Cabanas--took more than a little time getting into the match. It was not until late in the first half, in fact, that they began asserting themselves.

Mexico clung tenaciously to its slender lead, however, and was perhaps a shade unfortunate not to go ahead, 2-0, in the 39th minute when Courtney denied Sanchez’s appeals for a penalty after he was upended in the penalty area by Fernandez.

The referee judged that the goalkeeper had as much right to go for the loose ball as Sanchez and ignored the latter’s theatrics. Sanchez fell to his knees, bent backward, spread his arms and shouted to the gods, all to no avail.

With Paraguay increasing the pressure in the second half, Mexico’s defense at times looked vulnerable, especially in the air. In goal, Pablo Larios, too, was less than sure of himself. As the minutes ticked away, however, it seemed as if Mexico would survive.


Then, with fewer than six minutes remaining, the Paraguayans were finally rewarded. Two minutes after Ramon Hicks had watched in agony as his header struck the left post and rebounded clear, Romero had better luck with his effort, which flashed inside the left post beyond Larios’ fingertips.

That made it 1-1, and both teams appeared willing to settle for the tie--Mexico resignedly so, Paraguay delightedly.

Then, in the final minute, Sanchez was again brought down inside the penalty area, this time by a tackle from the player who had been shadowing him all afternoon, defender Wladimiro Schettina.

Courtney, despite the protestations of almost the entire Paraguayan team, pointed to the penalty spot, and Sanchez stepped up to take the kick.


Before he could do so, Paraguayan Coach Cayetano Re ran onto the field--against international regulations--and had a word with his goalkeeper.

Afterward, Re said that he had seen Sanchez take penalty kicks in Spain, where Sanchez plays for Real Madrid. Re did not say whether he told his goalkeeper which way to dive, but Fernandez made the save for a dramatic ending. Seconds later, Courtney blew his whistle one last time, and it was all over but the shouting and the taunting.