World Cup: Good cheer order of day


ORLANDO, Fla. -- This was to be the hooligan game, Belgium vs. the Netherlands. It was to be, in the paranoia of World Cup security officials, the day the best of times might turn to the worst of times.

There were so many signs of trouble, so many red flags in this sport of red cards.

* Just the day before there was a game that matched Mexico and Ireland, both of whose fans are volatile.

* Orlando has a central-city area, called Church Street Station, that looked to be a magnet for soccer gang gathering.

* The Dutch have a history of hooligan activity, and they even have a national law-enforcement agency called Central Intelligence of Hooliganism.

* And Belgium, while not home to many hooligans, is also known for its soccer fervor and was the ill-fated neutral-site host of the European Cup final on May 29, 1985, when 39 people died in rioting in the stands of Heysel Stadium more than an hour before Liverpool of England was to play Juventus of Italy.

So what happened in Orlando?

On Friday night at Church Street Station, the night after Mexico's 2-1 victory over Ireland and the eve of Belgium versus Holland, thousands of soccer fans showed up. Beer flowed freely. Flags of Ireland, Mexico, Belgium and the Netherlands were carried around by singing fans. Traffic jammed. So did sidewalks and parking garages.

And three arrests were made.

"One was for disorderly intoxication, the other two for trespassing in a bartwo guys wouldn't leave," said Mike Holloway, an Orlando Police Department spokesman.

What else happened on Church Street?

According to the Orlando Sentinel, a man waving a Mexican flag verbally baited two Ireland rooters. As police braced for the worst, the Irish fans crossed the street, approached the Mexican and shook his hand. Later, an Irish fan lamenting the loss, told a reporter, "For penance, I'm drinking Mexican beer for the rest of the night -- if I can find any."

And what happened yesterday, when a sellout crowd of 62,387 showed up at the Florida Citrus Bowl to watch Belgium beat Holland, 1-0, in a Group F game filled with missed chances, close calls and a full 90 minutes of soccer drama?

Not much.

If, indeed, last night turned into this morning with peace still at hand in Orlando, it will be another victory for the sport.

B6 For World Cup soccer, the best of times continues.

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