WORLD CUP USA '94 / QUARTERFINALS : Hagi Stands Tall Amid Tears : Soccer: While teammates wail, he waxes philosophical about the nature of Romania's penalty-kick loss to Sweden in quarterfinals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As usual, Romanian midfielder Gheorghe Hagi was his own man on all fronts Sunday in the World Cup quarterfinals. Others may be laughing and he frowns. Even on the field, he sometimes appears to be playing his own game.

In defeat, there was a trail of Romanian tears along the sideline at Stanford Stadium and in the middle of the field where the players gathered to watch defender Miodrag Belodedici's final futile penalty kick.

And Hagi?

He looked like he was arguing with some assistant coach or team official in the moments after Sweden's victory, 5-4, on penalty kicks after overtime ended in a 2-2 tie.

"We don't have any tears," Hagi said.

He spoke for himself. Hagi may be the best player to come out of Romania and the captain of the national team, but he certainly could not have been more wrong about the mood of his teammates.

Swedish goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli said that he spotted Romanian goalkeeper Florin Prunea crying when it was over. Ravelli noticed most of the Romanians were crying. Belodedici was the first player off the field.

But all the tears started even before the Swedish celebration. Romanian defender Dan Petrescu could have made it 4-3 on the penalty kicks, but he was robbed by Ravelli, who made an astonishing save, batting the ball away with his right hand. Ravelli said Petrescu started crying right after he missed. Midfielder Ionut Lupescu came over and patted him on the head.

Hagi was the only Romanian player composed enough to spend any amount of time talking about the loss with the media. (Belodedici came out for a moment, saying: "It was a very hard game. Romania could have won if it was stronger at the end." Then he slipped back into the safety of the dressing room.)

Losing on penalty kicks can't be getting any easier for the Romanians. For the second consecutive World Cup, they have exited after penalty kicks. In 1990, it was against Ireland, in the second round. Then it was 5-4.

"We could not play this game forever," Romanian Coach Anghel Iordanescu said. "A decision had to be made, and this was the penalty kick.

"I could not say we were at a disadvantage. Maybe this was our fate. This time, we could have been the winners, too. But soccer has no mercy."

Hagi spoke about the fickle nature of free kicks.

"Soccer is like roulette," he said. "It is not a matter of experience or skills. It's just plain roulette. That's why I've never played roulette in my life.

"It would have almost felt better to have lost in 90 minutes than to lose on the final kick of the day."

But the game unraveled before the penalty kicks. The Romanians were within five minutes of reaching the semifinals against Brazil when Swedish midfielder Kennet Andersson tied it, 2-2, on a header in overtime in the 115th minute.

Trying to sit on their lead cost the Romanians.

"There were times when they tried to keep the result as is and probably exaggerated it," Iordanescu said. "That's where they made a mistake."

Said Swedish defender Roland Nilsson: "I thought they were acting as if they had already won the game before the referee called time."

So much for slow-down soccer. The Romanians weren't quite sure what they wanted to do. Iordanescu wanted to keep them from flying too high. When they wanted to slow down, it cost them.

There were mixed feelings of pride, disappointment and missed opportunities. Hagi had wanted to show the world he was on equal footing with the likes of Romario and Bebeto.

Afterward, Hagi, who is 29, refused to speculate about his future when asked whether he would be back in four years.

"We don't know what will happen tomorrow," he said, smiling.

Final Kicks

A look at the sequence of penalty kicks following overtime in Sweden's victory over Romania:

1. Hakan Mild (Swe.): Missed

2. Florin Raducioiu (Rom.): Scored

3. Kennet Andersson (Swe.): Scored

4. Gheorghe Hagi (Rom.): Scored

5. Tomas Brolin (Swe.): Scored

6. Ionut Lupescu (Rom.): Scored

7. Klas Ingesson (Swe.): Scored

8. Dan Petrescu (Rom.): Missed

9. Roland Nilsson (Swe.): Scored

10. Ilie Dumitrescu (Rom.): Scored

11. Henrik Larsson (Swe.): Scored

12. Miodrag Belodedici (Rom.): Missed

Penalty result: Sweden wins, 5-4

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