The biographies of players prepared for the media before the World Cup revealed that Sweden’s goalkeeper, Thomas Ravelli, likes poetry. That was news to the people who gather the news in Sweden.
“I would think he would be the last one on the team who likes poetry,” a soccer writer from Stockholm said Sunday.
But whether or not Ravelli will read them, there were many poems being written about him after his performance in the quarterfinal game against Romania at Stanford Stadium.
Ravelli was poetry in no motion.
He said later that he was heeding the advice of teammate Tomas Brolin, who took him aside and counseled him before the penalty kick shootout that was required to determine the winner after the 30-minute overtime ended at 2-2.
“Tomas told me to just stand on my feet in the middle of the goal for as long as I could before each kick,” Ravelli said. “He said that the longer the goalkeeper stands in the middle, the more nervous the shooter is because he has to choose whether to kick to the right or the left.”
Brolin, one of Sweden’s sharpest shooters, would know. But it was interesting that he, at 24, would give advice to Ravelli, who will turn 35 next month. The most experienced goalkeeper in the World Cup, he tied Sweden’s record for international appearances with his 115th Sunday.
This, however, was the most important moment in the most important game he had ever played, and he would listen to anyone who might be able to help him.
So he planted himself on his line, like one of Joyce Kilmer’s favorite subjects. Surely, Ravelli has read him.
Even after the first three Romanians chosen to take penalty kicks put the ball into the net, Ravelli refused to commit himself before the shooters did. His patience finally prevailed when the fourth Romanian, Dan Petrescu, went right. Ravelli leaped in the same direction, getting one hand on the ball and batting it away.
Leading, 4-3, in the shootout, Ravelli had his first chance to win the game for Sweden when he faced the final Romanian of the shootout’s first round, Ilie Dumitrescu.
They had words earlier in the game, when Dumitrescu appeared to take a dive in the box and Ravelli ordered him to clear out.
“I’m not sure he understood my English,” Ravelli said.
Dumitrescu understood that he was being yelled at by the Swedish goalkeeper and spit at his feet.
When Dumitrescu was true with his penalty kick in the shootout, he charged toward the goalkeeper, shouting what Ravelli presumed to be trash talk.
“I don’t understand Romanian,” he said.
That sent the shootout into its second round, the one that can end in sudden death.
That was the way it ended for Romania.
After Sweden’s Henrik Larsson scored, the pressure was on Romania’s Miodrag Belodedici.
It showed. Hesitating before approaching the ball, he did not hit it with all of his power. Again diving to his left, Ravelli made the save that won the game.
“I think he was very nervous,” Ravelli said of Belodedici. “It’s a lot of pressure to take the penalty in the kind of game we played today. Any player must have a lot of mental strength to take those kinds of shots.”
And what of Ravelli’s nerves?
“The goalkeeper has everything to win and nothing to lose,” he said. “If I don’t stop any penalties at all, I’m not going to be the goat in the newspapers.”
One thing everyone is sure of is that Ravelli does read the Swedish newspapers. Before the World Cup, he was not particularly enjoying what they had to say about him.
If there had been another capable goalkeeper in Sweden, they would have preferred that Coach Tommy Svensson use him. But there wasn’t. So Ravelli and the Swedish media were stuck with each other. One recent news conference deteriorated into a shouting match between them.
Everyone, even his critics, agrees now that he has earned the last word. He can even have an entire verse.