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WORLD CUP USA '94: SEMIFINALS : Rematch Can Only Be Better : Soccer: There wasn't much at stake when Brazil played Sweden the first time, and it showed in a dismal 1-1 tie.

July 13, 1994|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first encounter was kind of like a slow dance on a first date. On June 28, at the Pontiac Silverdome, neither Brazil nor Sweden was inclined to press the action.

It all made for soccer to sleep by.

The result was a desultory 1-1 tie and a dissatisfied crowd of 77,217. Brazilian fans, in fact, booed their team off the field. Then, in the mixed-zone area afterward, Brazilian journalists booed Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira off the podium.

The Swedes, those Cheshire cats, disappeared into the night half-smirking, acting as though they had carried out their plan to perfection.

By comparison, one can only hope today's rematch in the World Cup semifinals at the Rose Bowl will be a rip-roaring bar dance. This time, there are no cards to hide, no players to protect and, presumably, nothing to lose.

Because that was not the case when the teams met in Group B play two weeks ago, it is hard to imagine what vital information might have been gleaned from that encounter.

Brazil began the game having already clinched a second-round berth, also knowing a tie was good enough to clinch the Group B title. Sweden had more to gain with a victory but also more to lose with a defeat.

The Swedes were all but assured of advancing and appeared preoccupied with damage--as opposed to ball--control. They obviously did not want to get caught up in a shootout with the high-powered Brazilians and possibly lose ground in total goal differential, the first tiebreaker.

Sweden also was without its best player, forward Martin Dahlin, who was serving a one-game suspension after having been given a second yellow card against Russia a few nights earlier.

In sum, the first Sweden-Brazil game had as much emotional buildup as a game of patty-cake.

The Brazilians spent most of the first half showing off their considerable dribbling skills, playing foot-catch among themselves, often in their own territory.

The Swedes rarely pressed the issue, attacking only when receiving open invitations. Happily for them, their letter arrived in the 24th minute when forward Tomas Brolin took control of the ball on the right flank and sent a crossing pass toward Kennet Andersson, who delivered one of the game's two exciting moments.

Andersson, left of goal, chested the pass, let it bounce once, then fired a right-footed shot past Claudio Taffarel, the Brazilian goalkeeper.

Like a newborn, Sweden coddled its precious lead into halftime, during which it received news that gave it less incentive to win: The Russians were beating up on Cameroon in a Group B game at Stanford Stadium.

The Russians' ultimate 6-1 victory clinched a second-round berth for Sweden regardless of its outcome against Brazil.

So, the Swedes were fired up in the second half?

Ah, no.

The game now entirely devoid of drama, Sweden sauntered back to the field and seemed unaware that the second half had actually begun. Less than two minutes into play, Brazil tied the game when Romario dribbled past three defenders and pushed a shot past goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli, who went on to better things in the tournament.

The rest of the game was as thrilling as watching Alexi Lalas' goatee grow.

All told, Sweden managed a whopping eight shots on goal.

As for Brazil, the derisive whistles began piercing eardrums around the 83rd minute, after Parreira had removed midfielder and captain Rai with the outcome still in doubt.

Later, Parreira tried to convince Brazil's media jackals that the game was no more significant than an exhibition.

Brazilians swore it wasn't their fault.

"It was ugly for the players to play because there was no game to be played, because of Sweden," Dunga, the Brazilian midfielder, said.

What could have been culled from the match? Most obvious was the considerable size advantage the Swedes held over the Brazilians.

Also, the Swedes' 4-4-2 formation appeared to have effectively contained the Brazilian forwards. Sweden chose not to pressure either Romario or Bebeto individually, opting to play zone.

"The pressure is on Brazil, because they're the favorite," Dahlin said after his team's quarterfinal victory over Romania. "And Latin American countries are not used to the 4-4-2, which is what Sweden plays."

Wednesday will mark the first time teams have met twice in the same World Cup since 1982, when Italy and Poland played to a scoreless tie in group play and met again in the semifinals, Italy winning, 2-0.

The World Cup can only hope the sequel to Sweden-Brazil will be better than the original.

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