Football / World Cup USA '94: Sweden's triumph perturbs the power brokers: Romania depart with pride intact

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The Independent Online
WHEN Romania pushed the ball around in their own half at the Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, conserving energy, trying to come up with a way of defeating Sweden, a majority in Sunday's audience grew restless.

Subtlety was lost on citizens of the host country. Booing and jeering, they indicated support for activity of a more urgent nature. One spectator, a man of medium height with sharp features, expressed total dissatisfaction. Making for an exit, he drew attention to proceedings that were not on his World Cup agenda. 'European football stinks,' he declared angrily.

As clearly he was not alone with that conclusion, some veteran

observers exchanged knowing glances. For almost the first time in a World Cup notable for exciting play, there was an echo of Italia '90 and representatives of the organising committee must have found it disturbing. What are those guys up to, is more or less what they could hear people saying.

The priority for Sweden and

Romania was a place in the semi- finals of the World Cup. Entertainment was a secondary consideration. This was fully understood by their supporters, but those coming fresh to the game thought it boring. 'I don't get it,' one of them said. 'Why aren't they trying to score?'

Probably, you can sense what I am getting at. It is that a big problem still exists for those who are trying to push football on the only continent still largely cool to it. It is why, privately, they are anxious for Brazil to reach the final. This World Cup has long since been safe from disaster, but without Brazil's participation at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Sunday it could end disappointingly.

It did so for Romania and one of the tournaments shining lights, Gheorghe Hagi, when Sweden's goalkeeper, Thomas Ravelli, who was equalling a record of 115 appearances for the national team, saved from Miodrag Belodedici at the sudden-death stage of a penalty shoot-out. 'One of our players told me to decide which way to dive and then go for it. I guessed right. I got lucky.'

Sweden had achieved the victory that could have slipped from their grasp when Florin Raducioiu equalised for Romania in the 89th minute to bring extra time. 'That was a terrible blow for our players,' Sweden's coach, Tommy Svensson, said. 'To be so close to the semi-finals and have it taken could have shattered their spirit.'

Things got worse for Sweden when Raducioiu put Romania ahead and Stefan Schwarz was sent off for a second yellow card offence with 18 minutes still to play. 'I can't speak too highly of the way our players coped with the disadvantage,' Svensson added. 'Their heads never went down. They gave everything.'

Kennet Andersson headed Sweden level to set up a dramatic, if unsatisfactory, conclusion. 'It is a hard way to lose,' Romania's coach, Anghel Iordanescu, said, 'but it is not possible for the players to go on for ever. Over the whole game, both teams had it in their hands and when we forced overtime I thought we would win, but it wasn't to be. We are disappointed but not demoralised. We gave a good account of ourselves.'

Before sending out his players, Svensson reminded them of what they were playing for. 'I told them to think about playing Brazil. That is a big thing for footballers from Sweden.' The final would be bigger but if Svensson's imagination stretches that far he does not speak about it. 'Now the players must rest and drink lots of water,' he added, 'because we shall need all our strength.'

For the organising committee, the thought of Sweden defeating Brazil probably falls into the nightmare category. If so, an even bigger nightmare would be a final between Sweden and Bulgaria. It would cause a great deal of excitement in Stockholm and Sofia, but it would not do a lot for evangelism. Here it might be a television turn-off. What they call a No, No.

ROMANIA (1-4-4-1): Prunea (Dinamo Bucharest); Belodedici (Valencia); Petrescu (Genoa), Prodan (Steaua Bucharest), Popescu (PSV Eindhoven), Selymes; Munteanu (both Cercle Bruges), Hagi (Brescia), Dumitrescu (Steaua Bucharest), Lupescu (Bayer Leverkusen); Raducioiu (Milan). Substitute: Panduru (Steaua Bucharest) for Munteanu, 83.

SWEDEN (4-3-3): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); R Nilsson (Helsingborg), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (IFK Gothenburg) Ljung (Galatasaray); Schwarz (Arsenal), Mild (Servette), Ingesson (PSV Eindhoven); Dahlin (Borussia Monchengladbach), Brolin (Parma), K Andersson (Lille). Substitutes: Kamark (IFK Gothenburg) for Bjorklund, 83, Larsson (Feyenoord) for Dahlin, 106.