Football / World Cup USA '94: Sweden are the third men

Bulgaria. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Sweden. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Brolin 8, Mild 30, Larsson 37, K Andersson 39

Attendance: 65,000

Little can redeem Sweden after their miserable, soulless semi-final performance against Brazil, but at least they emerged from their shell of mediocrity to provide some entertainment here yesterday and take third place in the World Cup. For what it was worth.

The idea of such a contest was conceived in the days when tournaments took place in countries, not continents. Poor Bulgaria had to fly 3,000 miles from New York, though with an estimated dollars 600,000 going to each team per game at these finals, their federation clearly thought it was worth it.

The match, a sort of before- thought, has always seemed at best kick-about and knock-about, at worst just plain cruel, even if it seemed more interesting four years ago because of England's involvement against the host nation Italy, who won 2-1.

Though it was easy enough for the Swedes, who had simply to stay on in California, it was hard on Bulgaria, a transatlantic flight away from home but a transcontinental one in the wrong direction, from a meaningless match.

Both sides treated it seriously, however, with the Bulgarians retaining the attractive, admirable team who lost to Italy after surprising this tournament. Sweden made three enforced changes, with Martin Dahlin injured and Jonas Thern and Roger Ljung suspended. Back from a two-match suspension came Stefan Schwarz, shortly to join Arsenal, plus Henrik Larsson and Pontus Kamark.

Sweden were clearly the less jaded and they took the lead after seven minutes, when Klas Ingesson got to the right by-line and crossed well for Tomas Brolin to head home. Brolin then turned provider for two more, first slipping a free- kick to Hakan Mild, who tucked the ball away after 29 minutes, and then, seven minutes later, sending Larsson through. The dreadlocked striker still had some work to do, going round Boris Mikhailov and committing Trifon Ivanov before rolling the ball into an empty net.

Six minutes before half-time, Sweden scored a familiar-looking goal for their fourth, Kennet Andersson heading home Schwarz's cross. Sympathy grew for Bulgaria. Their rare goal attempts, which included a free-kick by Stoichkov which went just wide, and his desperate appeals for penalties, smacked of drained tokenism.

The team selections were a little unkind to the patient bench-fodder of both teams, though Bulgaria did reward Ivailo Yordanov and their second goalkeeper Plamen Nikolov with second-half appearances.

Emil Kostadinov did have the ball in the net, from Stoichkov's pass, but was ruled to have fouled, and Stoichkov curled another free- kick just wide. Krasimir Balakov also hit the bar, and Stoichkov, with just Ravelli to beat, wasted yet another chance. It summed matters up for the Bulgarians. It was a match too far, one about money.

Sweden (4-4-2): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); R Nilsson (Helsingborg, capt), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund, Kamark (both IFK Gothenburg); Brolin (Parma), Mild (Servette), Scharwz (Arsenal), Ingesson (PSV Eindhoven); Larsson (Feyenoord), K Andersson (Lille); Limpar (Everton) for Larsson, 78.

Bulgaria (4-4-2): Mikhailov (Mulhouse, capt); Kiryakov (Lerida), Hubchev (Levski Sofia), Ivanov (Neuchatel Xamax), Zvetanov (Levski Sofia); Lechkov (Hamburg), Yankov, Sirakov (both Levski Sofia), Balakov (Sporting Lisbon); Kostadinov (Porto), Stoichkov (Barcelona). Substitutes: Kremenliev (Levski Sofia) for Ivanov, 43; Nikolov (Levski Sofia) for Mikhailov, h/t; Yordanov (Sporting Lisbon) for Sirakov, h/t.

Referee: Ali Mohamed Bujsaim (UAE).