Jaime Fernandez of Barcelona, who is about 30 and loves a good soccer game, as do most of his contemporaries here, has looked forward to the World Cup for some time, especially because eight matches, including the opening game and one of the semifinals, were to be played in his home city.
"A year ago on television," Fernandez recounted the other day, "they told us: 'Spaniards, don't worry, 25 percent of the tickets will be for the Spanish people.' "
Then, he said, he tried to buy a single ticket for the opening game. He was told that he had to buy a package of five if he wanted to watch the opening game, which featured Argentina star Diego Maradona, a future FC Barcelona forward.
Either he could buy five tickets to the game, or single tickets to the opener, the semifinal and all three games in one of the two Barcelona second-round groups.
As it turns out, the way some of the sales have gone, Fernandez could have gotten tickets to any number of other games, including two in Barcelona involving Argentina. But because of the opening-game ticket fiasco, the first game did not sell out, even though many Spaniards wanted to see Maradona.
"It seems that the problem is that Mundiespana has the tickets, but there are no persons," said Arnoldo Cleber Silva, an engineer from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. "But outside the stadiums there are persons but no tickets."
Such stories are not uncommon here, although sometimes reality is a little different. Most people blame Mundiespana, a special international travel agency the government here set up to handle ticket sales for the Cup.
Mundiespana sold tickets overseas and combined the sales with generally expensive tour packages that scared off so many potential World Cup visitors that most of the tickets returned unsold. So, there are tickets to be had, although a few big games in smaller stadiums have created a small black market.
And that market is a buyer's market for most games. Most of the tens of thousands of foreign spectators here came without tickets and took their chances, as did Washington-area resident Bruce Becker, cocaptain of the University of Pennsylvania soccer team, who never had seen a big international game before.
"I just came over and hoped I'd get lucky and see a few games," Becker said. "And I've definitely been lucky. I've had no problem for most of the games I wanted to see just walking up to the window (at the stadium) and buying a standing-room ticket."
He started off watching France and Czechoslovakia in the first round at Valladolid, and since then has seen several games in Barcelona and even has a ticket for a game featuring Brazil. With Brazil playing in the small Sarria Stadium here, and with everyone wanting to see the team, that is a bit of an accomplishment.
With all the empty seats at some of the games, it is interesting to hear the inflated spectator figures the Spaniards have circulated.
France versus Austria reportedly was a 62,000-spectator sellout, when in reality at least 20,000 seats were empty. West Germany-England also was called a sellout, but the crowd at the 90,000 Bernabeu Stadium was closer to 65,000.