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It’s the End for Laudrup, Denmark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When it was over, when the referee had blown the final whistle in the final game of Michael Laudrup’s 16-year international career, Denmark’s captain still had something to give to the fans.

His team had just been beaten, 3-2, by Brazil in a scintillating quarterfinal match Friday night at Stade de la Beaujoire, but Laudrup still had a few chores to perform.

First, he walked over to Dunga and shook hands with the Brazilian captain. Next, he and his younger brother Brian hugged each other, having played their last game together for Denmark.

Finally, Laudrup set off alone on a long walk to the corner of the stadium where several thousand Danish fans were gathered. On the way, he removed his captain’s armband and his red World Cup ’98 jersey.

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Reaching the fans, he handed both items to the leader of the Danish cheering section, a bass drummer decked out in red and white and wearing a top hat. The drummer proudly held the famous No. 10 jersey in front of him. Flashbulbs popped.

Still, Laudrup was not done. He removed his boots--items any soccer museum in the world would love to display--and tossed them to the fans.

Then, in his red-stockinged feet, Michael Laudrup, 34, walked back to midfield, down the tunnel and out of the limelight, his 104-game, 37-goal international career officially over.

If there were tears among the Danes, it was not only because the game was lost.

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For the Brazilians, meanwhile, the beat goes on.

Their victory Friday, on a goal by Bebeto and two by Rivaldo, sends them into a semifinal Tuesday against the winner of today’s match in Marseille between Argentina and the Netherlands.

Coach Mario Zagallo is not sure he can take another game like Friday night’s, however.

The Danes took the lead in the second minute. Brazil tied it. Brazil took the lead. Denmark tied it. Finally, Rivaldo settled matters, but there still was time for a Danish shot to bounce back off the crossbar in the final minute.

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“I’m very, very tired,” said Zagallo, 66, a four-time World Cup winner, “almost as tired as the players. It was a very tense match.

“I think that Denmark and Brazil have shown what a World Cup game should be, open and honest, the way football should be. We won, 3-2, but it very easily could have been Denmark that won, 3-2.”

The fans had hardly settled into their seats when Denmark scored. Dunga fouled Michael Laudrup near the edge of the penalty area, Michael took the free kick quickly, passing to brother Brian on the left flank. Brian Laudrup cut the ball back behind the Brazilian defense and midfielder Martin Jorgensen, heir apparent to the retiring Laudrup, fired it into the net.

The samba beat in the stands was suddenly quieted. But not for long.

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In the 11th minute, Brazil strung together a series of passes, from Leonardo to Cesar Sampaio to Ronaldo to Bebeto, the final pass springing Bebeto free. His carefully placed shot from 20 yards gave Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel no chance.

Nor could Schmeichel do much about it when teammate Thomas Helveg was stripped of the ball by Dunga in the 27th minute. Dunga passed to Ronaldo, Ronaldo, suddenly a creator of goals rather than a finisher, set up Rivaldo and the Barcelona player did the rest.

It was still 2-1 at the half but the Danes were not about to give up. In the 50th minute, Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos tried a spectacular bicycle kick in an effort to clear the ball. Instead, he made a spectacular hash of it, missing the ball altogether and allowing Brian Laudrup a shot from close range.

This time Taffarel had no chance, and just like that it was 2-2.

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But Dunga, who would have been the player retiring rather than Michael Laudrup had Brazil lost, came through again.

His pass to Rivaldo allowed the midfielder another shot at Schmeichel and Rivaldo slotted the ball just inside the right post for the winning goal at the hour mark.

Danish defender Marc Rieper crashed a header off the crossbar in the closing moments, but the ball bounced harmlessly away and the courageous Danes finally had to admit defeat.

“It was a great game,” said Bo Johansson, Denmark’s Swedish coach. “We were not afraid of the Brazilians, even though we know they are world-class players. We tried right until the end to beat them. I wonder if any team has come closer in a tournament like this?

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“It’s over now, but it’s been a fantastic adventure.”

Michael Laudrup must have been thinking much the same thing as he walked slowly off the field.

A fantastic adventure indeed.


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