WORLD CUP USA '94 / QUARTERFINALS : Just an Old Swede Song to Them

I stand outside Stanford Stadium after one of the most suspenseful climaxes to a soccer game in this or any country, Sweden having just driven a stake through Romania's heart. Flaxen-haired schoolgirls in green-and-yellow gym clothes go skipping along the pathway, arm in arm, forming a chorus line and singing as loudly as they know how. I recognize the melody.

"We love you, Swe-e-den!

"Oh, yes, we do!

"Oh, Sweden!

"We love you!" I interrupt one to ask: "Which part of Sweden are you from?"

Henriette Madsen, 18, who is visiting America with her Skovlunde teammates and playing in a football tournament in Sunnyvale, Calif., could not look much happier as she gives me an answer.

"Denmark," she says.

The World Cup. It brings neighbors together.

Too bad there could not have been two winners of Sunday's game here, for Romanians also merit serenades from surrounding nations. To lose the way they did, with a penalty kick by Miodrag Belodedici swatted away like an insect, had to be particularly painful, as was evident in the voice of Romania's coach, Anghel Iordanescu, when he said of the sport he adores that it "has no mercy."

Romanian roulette.

That's what it became in the end.

"You live and die with one boot of the ball. (The penalty kick) is like roulette," agreed Romania's great player, Gheorghe Hagi. "It is not a matter of experience or skill. It is just plain roulette. I don't like roulette."

So, rather than going 400 miles to Los Angeles to continue playing and to visit his cousin's pizzeria, Hagi must go some 8,000 miles to his people back home.

Going back will be an even greater ordeal for Belodedici, shooter of the fateful roulette ball, who in December of 1988 sought political asylum in Yugoslavia while visiting his mother's family on a tourist visa. For more than three years he was banished from the national team, and not until April, 1992, was he invited to don a Romania jersey again.

Prone on the lawn of Palo Alto, he and most of his teammates wept and clutched their faces until coaches and opponents came to offer them comfort. They would not be proceeding to Pasadena. They would not be training to play Brazil. Their World Cup had come to a sudden and terrible end. For a Romanian, there was sadness back home from the ports of the Black Sea to the banks of the blue Danube.

And for a Swede?

How sweet it is.

Said the winning coach, Tommy Svensson: "To be playing Brazil, in Pasadena, in Los Angeles, that is a great thing for a football player from Sweden."

The teams played a 1-1 tie in the first round, but this is a rematch 36 years in the making--a chance to finally redeem Sweden's 5-2 defeat to Brazil in the 1958 World Cup championship game, played in Sweden.

Scandinavia holds its breath.

"It's kind of a dream," Sweden midfielder Kennet Andersson said. "I can't explain it in English. I don't think I can explain it in Swedish, either."

So, I go looking for other Swedes. Maybe one of them can.

Celebrating the victory, wearing yellow Viking helmets with the longest horns this side of Thor, are three happy guys from the town of Lidhoping.

Nicklas Andersson, 23, says he sees no reason that Sweden could not overcome Brazil.

"They have 11 men and we have 11 men," he says. "Why not?"

Nodding their horns in agreement are Per Wernersson, 27, and Niklas Ivenholt, 26.

"Look," Wernersson says, taking off his helmet and pointing to a darker color beneath its peeling yellow paint. "Underneath, it turns to gold."

Meaning there is a great reward in the end if Sweden can just keep chipping away.

"And even Danes will be cheering for the Swedes?" I turn to the Danish students to ask.

Henriette Madsen's teammates gather around to shout:

"Ya! Sure!"

"And now Sweden will win the World Cup?" I ask.

And together as one, the Danish students shout:

"No! Brazil!"

And they laugh and the men from Sweden loudly disagree.

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