Football / World Cup USA '94: Sweden aim to overtake history men: Threat to Romania

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The Independent Online
THE 1958 World Cup final in Stockholm is an event that elder citizens of Sweden remember with considerable satisfaction. Their reminiscences are not all tender because Brazil with a nascent Pele defeated the host nation 5-2, but it was grand to have a team out there.

For the current generation of Swedish international footballers this is something of a burden. Continuously, the achievement is brought to their attention. They read about it in newspapers. Supporters go on about it. 'We are expected to live up to something that happened two years before I was born,' said the oldest member of Sweden's squad, the 34-year-old goalkeeper, Thomas Ravelli. 'We grew up hearing about that match,' the midfielder, Jonas Thern, said, but he was not complaining.

Tomorrow Sweden face Romania in a quarter-final at Stanford Stadium in San Francisco and history marches with them. 'It can be boring when people keep going on about the past but now there is feeling among us that we can emulate those guys who reached the final,' Thern added. In Italy four years ago Sweden left early, losing all three games in the opening round. 'It was a rotten time,' Thern added, 'but sometimes in life you can benefit from a bad experience and I believe that we have. We changed a lot of things after Italy.'

According to Sweden's coach, Tommy Svensson, the biggest change has been in attitude. This is a popular theme among the brotherhood, particularly in Britain, however Svensson thinks he has hit upon something important. 'Swedish teams in the past have been weak mentally,' he said, 'so I set about toughening the minds of our players.'

Not everybody is comfortable with the idea of a mean streak but Svensson thinks it central to requirements. The great Dutch teams of the 70s had a superior understanding of the quality he was going on about. They were able to take risks with the ball because, if it was lost, hard players could be relied upon to regain possession quickly. Svensson was not putting his team in that class but sees no reason why it should not be as competitive.

From the evidence of a pre-tournament friendly at Mission Viejo in California, and scouting reports, Svensson has a great of respect for the Romanians. He agrees that Gheorghe Hagi so far has been the best player in the tournament. 'But we can tough it out,' he added. 'I sense that our players have come to believe in themselves totally. They are on the verge of the semi-finals because they have not given in.'

Doubtless on the basis of their attainments so far, two victories, two draws and the only team to score against Brazil, there is growing support for Sweden as dangerous outsiders. This will encourage the colleague who from long range has boldly taken a lunge at the 18-1 quoted against them winning the tournament.

Other regulars at the betting shop windows are likely to be more impressed by the lessons of history. It is not just that only six countries have won the World Cup, but that in post-war years only two unfancied participants, Sweden in 1950 and Czechoslovakia in 1962, have progressed to the final.

Svensson considered this philosophically. 'There is a first time for everything,' he said. There is another way of putting what Svensson impresses upon his players. As they say about enthusiastic pacifists in boxing, if the spirit is weak, the flesh don't mean a thing.

ROMANIA (probable): Prunea (Dinamo Bucharest); Petrescu (Genoa), Belodedici (Valencia), Prodan (Steaua Bucharest), Selymes (Cercle Bruges), Munteanu (Cercle Bruges), Popescu (PSV Eindhoven), Lupescu (Bayer Leverkusen), Hagi (Brescia), Raducioiu (Milan), Dumitrescu (Steaua Bucharest).

SWEDEN (probable): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); R Nilsson (Helsingborg), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (IFK Gothenburg), Ljung (Galatasaray), Schwarz (Arsenal), Thern (Napoli), Ingesson (PSV Eindhoven), Dahlin (Borussia Monchengladbach), Brolin (Parma), K Andersson (Lille).