Why we loved them
THE 1994 TOURNAMENT featured a number of teams that quickly became cult favourites. Romania were blessed with The Holy Trinity of Hagi, Dumitrescu and Raducioiu up front while Bulgaria had the mercurial talents of Stoichkov and the support of Letchkov and Kostadinov. They also had a goalkeeper, Borislav Mihailov, who was voted the tournament’s best but who is better remembered for having the most famous wig in football.
But it’s the Swedish team, with the baby-faced playmaker Tomas Brolin and the attacking exploits of Kennet Andersson and Martin Dahlin, who lit up America. The bulk of the side had already experienced a disastrous World Cup in 1990 where they failed to pick up a point and finished bottom of their group.
The nucleus stayed together and enjoyed an immensely successful European Championship campaign two years later where they were beaten by Germany in a thrilling semi-final clash. Brolin was the team’s star, scoring three times.
By the time the World Cup rolled around in 1994, a handful of Sweden’s best players were plying their trade outside of the country. Brolin had been at Parma for four years, Dahlin was in Germany with Monchengladbach, the captain Jonas Thern was set to move from Napoli to Roma, Stefan Schwarz was preparing to swap Benfica for Arsenal while Andersson was with Lille in France. The rest of the side was made of up of players from Gothenburg, including the mad-cap goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli, centre-back Joachim Bjorklund and midfielder Jesper Blomqvist. Gothenburg, assisted substantially by their collection of World Cup heroes, would reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 1995, finishing top of an incredibly difficult group before narrowly losing out to Bayern Munich on away goals.
In the US, the Swedes seemed to have a bit of everything. They weren’t defensively resolute (they didn’t have a clean-sheet until the 3rd/4th place play-off against Bulgaria) but had a remarkable spirit about them. There was some terrific individuality mixed with the dependable double-act of Schwarz and Thern in the middle of midfield and up front, Dahlin and Andersson were a handful, offering moments of physicality and subtlety in equal measure.
Sweden finished top of their qualifying group (the one that France infamously failed to get out of thanks to David Ginola and bad defending) and were in good form as they headed to Pasadena’s Rose Bowl for their tournament opener against Cameroon.
The game started brilliantly for them as Roger Ljung popped up at the far post to head home Thern’s excellent free-kick after just eight minutes. The Africans hit back on the half-hour through David Embe and within minutes of the restart, they were in front. A poor mis-judgement from Patrick Andersson allowed Francois Omam-Biyik to nip in and force it past Ravelli.
Sweden had a dread-locked Henrik Larsson to thank for their equaliser. The striker, then playing with Feyenoord in Holland, came on with half an hour to go and with fifteen minutes left, he smacked an unstoppable drive at goal from thirty-five yards that crashed down off the crossbar. Dahlin was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Still, hardly the most impressive of starts.
Against Russia, Sweden went behind again – this time to an eighth-minute penalty from Oleg Salenko (it could be argued that a lack of discipline would eventually cost the Swedes a place in the final) but they hit back impressively.
Andersson set up Dahlin in the six-yard area but his effort flew over the bar.Luckily for him, the referee spotted a foul and pointed to the spot. Brolin stepped up and converted to level affairs.
On the hour, Dahlin made no mistake from close-range as he glanced a great cross from Thern to the far corner and with less than ten minutes left, Andersson sent in a sumptuous cross to the far stick which Dahlin expertly dispatched to the net. They were up and running.
In their final group game against Brazil, Sweden took the lead with a divine piece of skill from Andersson who chested down on the left of the area and with the outside of his right boot, delicately and deliciously lobbed it over Taffarel. Immediately after the restart, Brazil hit back with Romario charging at a back-tracking Swedish defence before stabbing it low to Ravelli’s left corner.
Both teams progressed safely to the knockout round but Sweden had shown a vulnerability at key times of games – the opening fifteen minutes of both halves and opponents would make them pay for that later in the tournament.
Against Saudi Arabia in the round of 16, it was Andersson’s turn to score twice with Dahlin adding another. But, Sweden’s win was overshadowed by that remarkable individual goal scored by Fahad Al-Ghesheyan.
Their quarter-final clash with Romania was one of the games of the tournament which sprang to life in the final fifteen minutes.
Brolin opened the scoring after a clever free-kick routine but with just two minutes remaining, Florin Raducioiu grabbed a scrappy equaliser. In extra-time, Raducioiu scored again and shortly after, Sweden had Schwarz sent-off for a second bookable offence.
Trailing in extra-time of a World Cup knockout game, down to ten men and exhausted, the game looked like being up for the Swedes but with five minutes to go, the full-back Roland Nilsson lofted in a pin-point cross and Andersson, almost NBA-like seemed to stay in the air forever, before flicking it past Prunea.
Moments later, a poor first touch from Larsson cost Sweden a winner after Andersson’s low strike was parried into his path by the Romanian goalkeeper.
In the resultant shootout, Ravelli was the hero. Despite Mild failing to convert Sweden’s first, they didn’t miss another. Ravelli, who sold industrial cleaning brushes part-time, had been ridiculed before the tournament and dismissed as ‘past it’. At 34, he still had plenty to give although many of his team-mates were amazed at the standard of his performances, his athletic saves proving almost as common as his unique mannerisms.
Nilsson called him ‘a wild man’ and with his crazy eyes, his tufts of blonde hair and his occasional freak-outs, he was relentlessly entertaining. When Dumitrescu stepped up to take Romania’s fifth penalty, he had to score to keep the shootout going. Ravelli was barking at him from his goal-line and gesturing wildly. Dumitrescu scored and spat insults at Ravelli as he walked past.
In the end, Ravelli didn’t need the mind-games and the tomfoolery – just a strong left arm to block Miodrag Belodedic’s effort.
Sweden’s journey came to an end in the semi-finals, in a re-match with Brazil. They struggled, failing to create any proper opportunities. In contrast, Romario and co. were relentless in their attacking and should certainly have been ahead by the break – Romario and Mazinho guilty of poor finishing.
Then, midway through the second half, Thern was sent-off following a late challenge on Dunga. The Brazilian’s reaction was theatrical and it was a harsh dismissal. It meant Sweden were forced to re-jig, withdrawing Dahlin and bringing on another midfielder.
Inevitably, they began to drop deeper and deeper as the game wore on. With ten minutes left, Jorginho sent in a cross from the right side and Romario found space inside Andersson and Nilsson to nod home from six yards.
The third/fourth place play-off against Bulgaria provided a flurry of goals as Sweden racked up four inside the first half. Brolin, Mild, Larsson and Andersson all registered in what proved a celebration for the Swedes.
In 10 World Cup games (across 1990 and 1994), Tomas Brolin scored four times. But three of those came in America where he was granted the freedom to wield substantial influence and dictate how the side played. He was given a free role wide on the right and with Roland Nilsson offering him plenty of protection at full-back, he was free of defensive responsibilities.
His goal against Romania was superb in its creation and its execution while he kept his nerve well against Russia and popped up to deliver a killer finish in the clash with Bulgaria. His subsequent time in the Premier League with Leeds counts against him but he was an integral part of a thoroughly impressive mid-nineties’ international team.
Kennet Andersson finished the 1994 World Cup with five goals to his name – the same as Romario, Roberto Baggio and Jurgen Klinsmann.
And though his goals against Romania and Bulgaria would lead some to ponder whether he was just another beanpole striker with physical prowess and not much else, his deft lob against Brazil in the group-stage rubbishes that theory, as does his brace in the round of 16 tie against Saudi Arabia.
He had already set up Dahlin’s opener with a superb cross from the left side before he properly rolled his sleeves up and tore into the Arabians. His first goal was a blistering left-foot drive to the bottom corner from the edge of the box while his second is our choice for Sweden’s stand-out moment of the tournament.Source: sp1873/YouTube
The move has a little of everything – just like this Swedish team. It begins with some combative midfield work to win the ball back, then a patient build-up, an angled pass into the feet of Dahlin who sends a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Andersson who expertly drills it low to the far corner, kissing the inside of the post on its way. As always, the best part of any Andersson goal is the celebration.
Who knew he was a fan of Aussie Rules?