Football / World Cup USA '94: Nilsson relieved to make up for past traumas: Sweden's wily full-back insists this could be their year. Phil Shaw reports

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THE bitter memory of the 1990 finals - when they lost to Costa Rica and Scotland as well as Brazil - has spurred Sweden in their progress to a quarter-final against Romania at Palo Alto this Sunday.

The Swedes clinched a place in the last eight by overcoming a spirited Saudi Arabian challenge in the Cotton Bowl on Sunday. According to Roland Nilsson, the former Sheffield Wednesday defender, it was the least they could do after the embarrassment of Italia '90.

'We never did ourselves justice, and when we got home we got absolutely slaughtered,' Nilsson said. 'Now we've got a very good squad, with experience from all over Europe, and we feel this could be our year. Most of us will be too old in '98 - it's definitely my last chance.'

Four years ago the Swedish squad were riven by internal tensions and too dependent on the emerging Tomas Brolin for goals. Brolin now operates deeper, using his distributive ability to supply Martin Dahlin and Kennet Andersson, whose partnership has been a revelation.

The taller Andersson is supposedly the target man, yet his three goals have all been scored with his feet. Three of Dahlin's four have come with his head. When the pair were considering offers from Crystal Palace and Everton respectively, they sought Nilsson's counsel. Despite his endorsement, neither will be coming.

It might be the Premiership's loss. As Tommy Svensson, Sweden's manager, said after the game: 'When you have two strikers like them, you can beat anybody.'

Nilsson, meanwhile, was relieved to be escaping conditions best suited to mad dogs and Americans. 'It should be much cooler in San Francisco. We hope to be able to step up the attacking side against Romania.

'We normally go forward more strongly but in this heat you lose so much energy. Burn out after an hour and you're finished. The weather has been a huge factor for the Europeans so we've had to modify our game.'

For Saudi Arabia's coach, Jorge Solari, the disappointment was compounded by Argentina's exit. A member of the Argentinian side of '66, he is also Fernando Redondo's father-in-law. But if the present belongs to Sweden, with their superior strength and know- how, the future surely rests on the silky skills and speed of teams like the Saudis. They beat Belgium, scared the Dutch and contributed two of the tournament's most stunning goals.

The Saudis also provided a rich vein of off-beat stories. There was the mobile mosque where the players prayed five times a day, and the oil-rich fan who, win or lose, promised each of the squad a Swedish Volvo.

Now it transpires that they used a company called Joe Goldstein Public Relations during their stay in the United States. Goldstein explained: 'I asked if it would be any problem that I'm a Jew. They told me it wouldn't and I said: 'As long as you don't believe in genocide, I'm your man.' '