WORLD CUP USA '94 / QUARTERFINALS : For Brazil, a Winning Number? : Soccer: Amid complaints by Romario about midfield play, team tries to keep in step against a dangerous Netherlands squad.


Mario Jorge Lobo Zagalo has the cure for triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13.

Brazil's assistant coach likes the number.

The way he figures it, 13 is going to play a major role at the Cotton Bowl today when Brazil plays the Netherlands in the feature game of the World Cup quarterfinals.

Twenty years ago, it had no effect at all. Holland defeated Brazil in the '74 semifinals in West Germany, 2-0. Zagalo was Brazil's coach.

But usually the number game ends positively for Zagalo. He played on the great Brazilian teams that won world championships in 1958 and '62. The '58 title, he can readily explain.

"Five plus eight equals 13," he says.

Then in 1967, the left winger helped lead Botafogo of Rio de Janeiro to the national title.

"Six plus seven equals 13," he says of the year.

He was coach of Brazil's 1970 championship team, another aberration in Zagalo's strange world of figures.

And now?

"Add up the letters of Holland and Brazil and you get 13," he says.

"Nobody likes 13, but I like it."

Whether Zagalo's superstitions make any difference is debatable. He failed to mention this is World Cup '94, and nine plus four also equals 13. In a match of this magnitude, every little bit counts.

Brazil (3-0-1) will begin today's game with unrest, but that's nothing new. Romario, the team's great striker and greater talker, has been running off at the mouth as much as around the practice field.

He has continued his tirade about the midfielders not getting him the ball enough. Dunga, Mazinho and the others have become frustrated by the accusations. They are playing the way Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira tells them, and Romario, the mouth that scored, cannot change that.

The stress of going for a fourth world championship has been evident. Rai, who again will be replaced in the midfield, was told of the change in front of teammates Friday.

Not one to complain, Rai said Parreira embarrassed him.

It's not quite a team in turmoil, but Brazil's squabbling makes Dutch Coach Dick Advocaat smile. Not that he is saying anything. Holland is trying to play it cool in the oppressive North Texas heat.

With temperatures expected in the high 90s, Brazil thinks it will have a big advantage. The Dutch say they can handle heat after playing in the sauna of Orlando and Washington during first-round action.

"I hope it is going to be even warmer because Brazil can handle it better than the Dutch," Bebeto said after Friday's practice. "It's going to be very difficult for the Dutch to follow the Brazilian rhythm of playing."

Parreira said the other day in Addison, Tex., that the heat will be a major factor in the outcome. He said Brazil will try to use its superior technical skills to control the ball.

"We have to conserve energy, go for the short passes," he said. "There is no other way to cope with the heat."

Romario, as usual, was more pointed in talking about the heat and FC Barcelona teammate Ronald Koeman, a Dutch defender.

"I know him," Romario said. "With the heat in Dallas, in the second half he won't survive."

Advocaat dismissed the remarks, saying Romario was simply trying to motivate Brazil.

Instead of worrying about what Romario is saying, Koeman is concerned with his ballhandling and shooting. Holland's captain, Koeman will play a pivotal role in trying to stop the dazzling forward.

"It is impossible to mark him very well for the whole match," he said. "He has so much speed and he is very fast the first few meters. Bebeto is also very dangerous."

Romario did praise defender Stan Valckx. Romario and Valckx are friends and former teammates on a Dutch club.

"I know I'll be in a real match playing against him," Romario said. "Holland will try to play against us, and that's better for us."

The Dutch will try to launch an assault led by Dennis Bergkamp, Peter van Vossen and Marc Overmars. If clicking, Holland (3-1) can be devastating, which will not be better for Romario and Brazil.

"We have to play our game, and that is to attack," said Ed De Goey, Holland's goalkeeper. "That is always the spirit of the Dutch team."

The spirit of Brazil is questionable. It has not won convincingly except in a 3-0 victory over Cameroon in first-round play. It reached the quarterfinals by defeating the United States, 1-0, on Monday.

The Netherlands also struggled in the first round and lost to Belgium, 1-0, in Orlando. But the Dutch were devastating in their 2-0 victory over Ireland in last weekend's second round.

Unlike Brazil, the Netherlands was not considered a strong contender for the Cup. Thus, Brazil is facing intense pressure, particularly from a soccer-mad populace that demands excellence.

How does Parreira handle it?

"There's no way to hide, so you just have to face them and then do what you think is right," he said.

Even if it means finding a combination that adds to 13.

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to story.


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