WORLD CUP : Sweden Is Led by Goalie

From Associated Press

Goalkeepers naturally hate giving up goals. For Thomas Ravelli, it was a relief finally conceding his first goal after four straight shutouts, including one for Sweden's national team.

"Letting in that goal was probably good," Ravelli says. "The media would have started writing even more about my shutouts, and that adds mental pressure."

Ravelli, 34, is the most experienced goalkeeper in this World Cup. He was unscored upon for 8 hours 45 minutes during the first month of the Swedish season.

The stretch started April 10 after Ravelli gave up a 10th-minute goal for IFK Goteborg in the Swedish first division and ended 15 days later with just 10 minutes left of another league game. In between, he also played for Sweden in a 2-0 exhibition victory at Wales.

"Sure, shutouts are nice," Ravelli says. "But only if you play well and your team wins. You don't play for the shutouts. You play to win. The shutout is just a bonus."

IFK Goteborg started the season 5-0. Sweden's World Cup team also is off to a good start. Despite missing several key players who had commitments with their foreign-based clubs, Sweden won the Joe Robbie Cup in Miami by beating the United States, 3-1, in February. Ravelli's backup, Lars Eriksson, played in that game, but Ravelli earned a shutout in a scoreless tie against Colombia.

The 1990 World Cup was a nightmare for Ravelli. He gave up six goals as Sweden lost all three preliminary-round games by 2-1 scores to Brazil, Scotland and Costa Rica. Ravelli predicts better results for Sweden this summer.

"But only barring injuries to the key players," he says. "Don't expect good results if three, four players are not fully fit or if they're coming back from recent injuries and aren't match-tough. We don't have the depth compared to other teams."

Coach Tommy Svensson, who led the Swedes to the semifinals in the 1992 European Championship, is expected to keep Ravelli in goal throughout the World Cup.

Last year, Ravelli joined the elite group of players who have made at least 100 appearances for their national team. Ravelli earned his 107th "cap" against Wales and if he plays the remaining exhibitions and first-round World Cup games against Cameroon, Russia and Brazil, he would be just one game shy of Bjorn Nordqvist's Swedish record of 115 games.

Two retired goalkeepers, Peter Shilton of England and Pat Jennings of Northern Ireland, top the career list with 125 and 119 games respectively.

"It's one of my goals to break his record," Ravelli says of Shilton. "It depends on how I'm playing, but I plan to go on for at least two more years. We have the European Championship finals in 1996 and I'd like to play in England if we qualify."

Making the 1992 European semifinals was great, but "we lost to the Germans and didn't make the final. So honestly, I hope the biggest moment of my career is yet to come before I retire."

Maybe in the United States this summer.

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