When it was over, Diego Maradona fell on his back. He might have been ecstatic or he might have been exhausted. Certainly, he was wet.
It started as a soccer match under partly sunny skies. It ended as a mudbath under partly insane skies, and Argentina had escaped with a 1-0 victory today over Uruguay to advance to the quarterfinals of the 13th World Cup.
Pedro Pasculli scored a first-half goal to win it, but that was before the day turned surreal. First came the clouds, then the wind, and then it got very dark for late afternoon. In the final 15 minutes of the match, with strong winds rushing through the stadium, it rained -- hard.
Puebla instantly became a resort town, with new bodies of water created throughout the valley. Many of the 26,000 fans scattered for cover, but many thousand others, who obviously will do anything to watch World Cup soccer, remained unprotected in the stands.
"When the skies open up like that, it is better to have a one-goal lead than to be one goal behind," said Argentine midfielder Jorge Burruchuga. "And frankly, I was not sure we would keep them from scoring. They were attacking, and anything can happen in conditions like that. I cannot recall ever such wind and rain. I looked up and all I saw was one very big dark cloud over the stadium."
Curiously, the downpour sparked some life in the Uruguayans, who until then had proven that it's hard to attack when you're backpedaling all the time. Perhaps thinking they might drown if they stayed in one spot too long, the Uruguayan players finally attacked the goal relentlessly. In perfect first-half weather, they had sunbathed; in the second-half quagmire, they ran.
Facing elimination and a lightning-filled flight home, Uruguay pressured Argentine goalkeeper Nery Pumpido. Enzo Francescoli, Venancio Ramos and Miguel Bossio all threatened to score.
For Argentina in the final minutes, Pasculli and Oscar Ruggeri botched breakaways and Maradona, who on a luckier day might have had three goals and three assists, had a goal taken away from him because he fouled the defender as he shot.
In the end, Argentina had just enough to advance to play the winner of Wednesday's England-Paraguay match. "That has always been our style," Argentina Coach Carlos Bilardo said. "We play just good enough to win. We seldom go beyond what we need to win."
The match had been hyped as a possible street brawl, but play never got exceedingly tough. Because of its roughhouse tactics against Scotland, Uruguay had been fined $12,000 by FIFA, the international soccer federation, and Coach Omar Borras was forbidden from the sidelines against Argentina.
Instead, Uruguay opted for a conservative, defense-oriented style without physical intimidation (each team did receive three cautioning yellow cards). In the first half particularly, the Uruguayans treated the area past midfield as forbidden land, venturing toward the Argentine goal only when the ball happened to bounce that way.
Argentina, meanwhile, attacked with fervor. Maradona, marked by the bigger, stronger Jorge Barrios, bordered on the brilliant, creating several scoring opportunities. He had a 35-yard free kick hit off the crossbar as well.
"I expected to get hit," Maradona said, "but it wasn't that bad."
Argentina finally scored in the 42nd minute of the half. Burruchuga outfought a defender for possession just beyond the penalty area and passed to the right side to Jorge Valdano. Valdano penetrated a few steps and sent a centering pass to Pasculli, who scored from 10 yards out into the left corner of the net.
Uruguay finally emerged from its shell, and Francescoli blew its best chance of the half in the final minute when he shot over the goal from eight yards out, unmarked.
The second half began under darkening skies and Uruguay stepped up its attack a bit, but there seemed little logic to its offensive approach. The two teams played soccer for 30 more minutes, and then the weather took over, providing perhaps the best advertisement yet for the future of indoor soccer.