Paraguay, playing in front of 14,580 hostile fans at Azteca Stadium, came from behind to tie Mexico, 1-1, today in World Cup soccer and then survived a penalty kick by one of the world's best strikers in the final moments to preserve the draw.
The tie left Paraguay and Mexico tied for first in Group B with three points each. Each team has one game left in the preliminary phase of this 13th World Cup, and each is expected to advance to the single-elimination round of 16.
Also today, Spain beat Northern Ireland, 2-1, in Guadalajara and Poland defeated Portugal, 1-0, in Monterrey.
What transpired here left the Mexican fans in a foul mood and gave a hint of the potential crowd-control problems at these games. When Paraguay's Julio Cesar Romero, a former Cosmos forward, tied the game in the 39th minute of the second half, some of the fans threw objects at the Paraguayans as they celebrated in a corner of the field.
And when the jubilant Paraguayans headed for the locker room after the match, more objects were hurled, although most of them were blocked by a fence. Paraguay's Alfredo Mendoz did not help matters, raising his fists and pumping them while shouting at the crowd.
Afterward, Mexico City authorities, seeking to prevent further damage by fans to monuments on the city's main avenue, designated five city parks for postgame celebrations and placed 35,000 police and members of the elite Presidential Guard on duty. Last Tuesday, more than 100,000 jammed the streets after Mexico's victory over Belgium.
But the crowd today could not overshadow Paraguay's gutty performance. In the first 20 minutes, Paraguay played as if resigned to losing, but it dominated most of the action thereafter.
Mexico, riding the emotion of the home crowd, struck for a 1-0 lead in the third minute. Luis Flores took a centering pass from Raul Servin, beat his defender about 12 yards from the goal, dribbled to his left a few yards and scored into the right side of the net.
Mexico's attacks became infrequent as the half wore on, and it appeared it would follow the World Cup formula to success: Score first and then sit back on defense.
But Paraguay, playing aggressively, tied it with six minutes left on Romero's header after a free kick by Ramon Hicks.
Paraguay seemingly had the tie in hand until the frenzied final minute. That's when Wladimiro Schetina fouled Mexico's star striker, Hugo Sanchez, in the penalty area, giving one of the world's most feared scorers a penalty kick.
After order was restored -- Paraguay Coach Cayetano Re had sprinted 30 yards to protest the call and players were pushing and shoving each other -- Sanchez was ready to kick in the game-winner. But Paraguay goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez guessed correctly, diving to his right and getting his forearm on Sanchez's shot. The ball bounced off the left post, and the match ended seconds later with the Paraguayans swarming Fernandez.
"To get a tie here is like a victory," said Re. "The Mexicans had the crowd and the lead. We were the better team in the second half, and we were fortunate enough to have Roberto Fernandez at the end to stop an unfortunate penalty kick."
In what has become a trend in the Cup, the match more often resembled roller derby than soccer. Mexico was whistled for 30 fouls and given three cautioning yellow cards; Paraguay had 27 fouls and two yellows. Sanchez received a yellow card for the second consecutive game and thus will be suspended for Mexico's next match, against Iraq.