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WORLD CUP USA 1994 : Q&A WITH SIGI SCHMID : Stopping the Big 3: Deny, Deny, Deny

July 17, 1994|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The assignment was to find a soccer coach--preferably with a World Cup pedigree and no ax to grind--to preview the Brazil-Italy championship final, breaking down the X's and the O's for the lay (read: American) audience.

Bora Milutinovic would have seemed an obvious choice, except:

--This is an English-language newspaper.

--This man is the Yogi Bora of soccer. Hard to peg an in-depth analysis around quotes like: "Baggio or Romario, I can make no comparation. Is important to have good ambience on the field. And in my country, the fish die in the mouth."

So, instead we turned to one of Bora's assistants on the U.S. World Cup squad, Sigi Schmid, who is also the head soccer coach at UCLA. Schmid knows all about Brazil, having helped devise Bora's game plan for the July 4 Clash of One Titan in Palo Alto. Since then, Schmid has been following Italy from afar, as a fan.

Schmid believes the 1994 final has all the makings of a classic--assuming Roberto Baggio plays, which, for the purposes of this story, we are.

"The two best teams in the tournament made it to the final," Schmid said. "People could argue that Germany had the talent to get to the final, but the Germans didn't play as well as they normally can.

"Brazil has been pretty consistent through the tournament and Italy has come through some great adversity to get here. Both deserve to be in this game. . . .

"I think we could have a game similar to Romania-Argentina, which was a great game. (Romania won that round-of-16 match, 3-2.) Brazil is going to attack, and what you must have in order to have a great game are two teams that are willing to play. And Italy will counterattack. The Italians defend, but they counterattack with purpose.

"Each team has to play to its strengths. Brazil needs to put away its chances; Italy needs to catch a counter."

As for Schmid's views on the pressing issues of the day:

Question: How does Italy go about stopping the Bird and Magic of the Brazilian Dream Team, Romario and Bebeto?

Answer: The best way to shut down two great strikers is to take away the service. (Italian Coach Arrigo) Sacchi did this in the European Cup final between Milan and Barcelona. You've got to shut down the service to Bebeto and Romario, upset the midfield and take away those crossing passes from the flank by Branco and Jorginho.

Italy has to have one of its defensive midfielders, (Demetrio) Albertini or Dino Baggio, sit in the passing lane and take away the crossing patterns. . . . They have to deny Romario and Bebeto the ball.

Q: How does Brazil put the clamps on Roberto Baggio, all hamstrings being equal?

A: That's another one where you have to cut off the service, except with Baggio, it's a little more difficult. Baggio plays further back than Romario and Bebeto, and he's more prone to come back for the ball.

So Brazil will probably allow Baggio to have the ball in his half of the field and pick him up tighter when he gets into the attacking half.

Q: So who's best--Romario, Bebeto or Baggio?

A: I'll take any of them. You're talking about three world-class strikers.

Romario is more in the mold of the classic old-time goal scorer, kind of a poacher. Like Gerd Muller of West Germany, who scored so many goals and didn't seem to do too much. Romario seems to just stand around at times, but you can't forget about him. That's when he scores the goal.

Bebeto is a very active forward. He's hard to get a hold of. Bebeto plays a more horizontal game than Romario. He gets outside, and he's dangerous with crosses from the wings.

Baggio is similar to Bebeto, very active. He's a great shot with either foot and he has the ability to find openings where there appears to be none. His second goal against Bulgaria was a good example of that.

Q: How about the goalkeepers?

A: Traditionally, Brazil has never produced very good goalkeepers. Also, they usually don't need one. (Claudio) Taffarel has not been tested. What he's had to do, he's done well. But I remember a qualifying game against Bolivia where he didn't look good at all on a couple goals. I'm sure the Italians have that in the back of their minds. They have to test him early.

I think (Italy's Gianluca Pagliuca) has played very well. He's very confident. He bailed out Italy with a couple big saves against Nigeria. He's a little flashier than Taffarel and he's stronger outside the box. I'd give the edge here to Italy.

Q: If Arrigo Sacchi and Carlos Alberto Parreira are such bad coaches, what are their teams doing in the final?

A: I think part of the problem for Parreira and Sacchi is that neither one was a big-time player. Sacchi had to prove himself as a coach at Parma, which was a lower-echelon team at the time, before he got his chance at AC Milan. Parreira had to go outside Brazil to establish his reputation. He coached for Kuwait, for the United Arab Emirates.

They had to earn their respect as coaches. It's not like having Beckenbauer and Platini on the bench, guys who were legends when they played.

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