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Fan violence became such a problem that both Saprissa and Alajuelense took steps to bring La Ultra and La Doce under control. Today, the outright crime has subsided, but the underlying mood of fan anger remains.

Matthew Yeomans, a journalist in Cardiff, Wales, has covered the past three World Cups.

Morality Play: Soccer as Theater

By Robert Coover

Spain, summer of '82. The smog cap over Barcelona is like the lid of a pressure cooker, ablaze with sunlight, and up here on the top tier of the little Sarriá soccer stadium, where Brazil, Italy, and Argentina are meeting in a World Cup knockout round-robin, they seem to have sold ten tickets for every square foot of space. We have to go an hour and a half early just to squeeze in at all. No way to sit, no chance to go for drinks, by the time the matches start it's hard to breathe. My teenage son spends one entire game hanging over an exit from a stair railing. Each day we say: If it's not bloody sensational, we'll go to a bar and watch it on TV, this is crazy. And each day we stay.

We've been here before. The other time, in 1977, two years after the death of the dictator Franco, it was raining and dark and turning cold. We stayed that time, too, huddled under an umbrella high up on the roof under the floodlights in the blustery winds and pouring rain in the only seats we could get, and happy to have them. That night we were watching a late autumn Spanish league match between the two archrivals of this city, FC (Fútbol Club) Barcelona and Real Club Deportivo Español (the Spanish Royal Sports Club), a match that was more like a reenactment of the Spanish Civil War than a mere athletic event.

There are, it sometimes seems, only two universal games: war and soccer. War is perhaps closer to the realm of fantasy, soccer to that of the real, but both share this ubiquity and centrality, as though arising from some collective libidinous source, primary and intuitive. Perhaps they are simply variations of the same game, modern industrial-era ritualizations of some common activity from the Dreamtime of the species, back when both used the same players and the same field—which is to say, all the men of the tribe and all of nature. Still today, they often fade into one another. Soccer managers "declare war," generals apply soccer tactics and terminology, warlike violence invades the soccer field, spreads into the stands and out into the communities, soldiers wear their team colors into battle, fan clubs are known as "armies."

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