This article is a part of the 30 day Special Series from Football Bloody Hell devoted to the World Cup 2018.
Sweden’s rather unexpected triumph in 1994 was something else than I normally would write about. I have an affection for the cases where football becomes more than just a sport, when football becomes a part of a lifestyle or a national identity or just where football gives much needed hope where there is absolutely none. Sweden in 1994 was not really in a crisis of any sort, it was a healthy country with a good economy and with a brilliant future ahead of it with companies like IKEA, SAAB and Vattenfall merely starting their expansions into the rest of the world. But this story lies close to my heart for another reason. I was born in 1996, two years after this triumph, in the fifth biggest city in Sweden, Linköping.
When I grew up I heard the stories, nay, legends, of Kennet Andersson’s iconic gaol celebration or Tomas Brolin’s spinning jump with the fist in the air that inspired kids back then to become football stars. Sweden was in no need of renewed hope, we had in fact been spoiled in the years following the second World War as we managed to walk out of it as neutrals, unharmed and with a blissful commercial future due to our decision to stay out of the destructive war. In the decades following the second World War, Sweden was a growing economy, soon becoming one of the strongest in Europe, which it still is, apart from a few international financial collapses.
But the triumph in 1994 was as unexpected as it was inspiring. It inspired me, my friends and still continues to inspire people. Swedes still study that team, the dynamics and tactics as well as the technical ability of Kennet Andersson’s finishing which must be seen as more than underrated. This is the story of a team that inspired a people in no need of inspiration and of a case where the World Cup turned a whole squad into instant national legends.
Euro 1992 in Sweden had ended with a minor disappointment. The golden generation, as it was called at the time, was believed to have its best chance at illustrious silverware at the Euros on home soil, but it sadly ended with a gold medal for Sweden’s local rivals Denmark, our main rivals in international football, a Scandinavian derby that goes back to the dark ages when Denmark used to own Sweden. Sweden then broke loose and began to take back what was rightfully theirs. Denmark tried to get Skåne and Blekinge back until the 19th century, but had to stop due to Swedish military expertise proving too difficult. So 1992 was a real failure, even though we had played great football. So when the World Cup came and Sweden were in the same group as Brazil, things did look dire.
The team had been assembled by coach Tommy Svensson and he had mixed players from foreign leagues with players from IFK Göteborg and Malmö FF as well as Djurgården, among the best teams in Sweden at the time. Patrik Andersson, played at Borussia Mönchengladbach at the time, striker Martin Dahlin, also Mönchengladbach, Tomas Brolin, Parma, Kennet Andersson, Lille, as well as a young Henrik Larsson who had just begun his career at Feyenoord where he played before transferring to Celtic. These together with Tomas Ravelli from IFK Göteborg and captain Roland Nilsson from the same club made for a good mixture of talent, experience and togetherness, even though the entirety of the success had not been experienced yet.
Sweden’s group consisted of Cameroon and Russia, apart from Brazil, and these three teams were deemed to be almost as good, even tough Sweden was probably labelled as favourites to finish behind the Brazilians led by Romario. Sweden’s first game was played in the unbearable heat in Pasadena, Los Angele. The great Rose Bowl, which also was the stadium chosen for the bronze game and the final, was host to this first game in Sweden’s group which was against the Cameroonians.
Roger Ljung, left-back at Galatasaray at the time, scored the opener in the 7th minute before Cameroon equalized through Embe. Omam-Biyik put the Africans ahead a few minutes into the second half before Swedish-Venezuelan striker Martin Dahlin levelled the score to save a point for the Swedes. This was seen as a bit of a failure in Sweden as they now had to beat the Russians, a notoriously difficult side to beat, in order to progress to the knockout rounds. Brazil was not possible, most argued. They weren’t right.
Sweden travelled north to a warm Detroit to face the Russians at the Pontiac Silverdome, a stadium that subsequently became famous in Sweden for commentator Staffan Lindeborg’s comments after Sweden’s result against Brazil that secured a place in the Round of 16. “We celebrate the summer in Pontiac Silverdome”, he said with his characteristic voice. Any vaguely sport interested Swede could remember that line from Lindeborg as it represents a summer of footballing greatness for Sweden. Russia took the lead 1-0 after a penalty from Oleg Salenko, a fantastic goal machine who scored six goals in the group stage alone for the Russians, five of it coming in a single game against the Cameroonians. However, Sweden fought back and equalized after 38 minutes through Tomas Brolin with a penalty before Martin Dahlin bagged a brace to more or less send the Swedes through to the Round of 16.
Sweden’s game against Brazil could have some meaning. Considering the other game was played at the same time, no one really knew the possible outcomes. Sweden began the game well and created some chances. Kennet Andersson and Martin Dahlin was the focal points in attack with Brolin and the late Klas Ingeson creating chances. Sweden even scored against the eventual World Cup winners when Kennet Andersson somehow managed to score behind Taffarel, even though the angle was not entirely in his favour.
Tomas Brolin had cut in from the left and found Andersson with a long ball. Andersson chested it down, let it bounce once and then took a shot from an awkward position and angle to score the first goal of the game, a goal that made him a hero in Swedish meatball-eating and Volvo-driving households. In the other game, Russia beat Cameroon by six goals to one, where Oleg Salenko scored five. It didn’t really matter that Brazil equalized through Romario, Sweden would celebrate summer in Pontiac Silverdome and there was nothing that could stop them from doing so.
Sweden then travelled back south to a scorching Dallas to face Saudi Arabia, a team that had somehow managed to shock everyone by winning their group. The heat was really something else and the Swedes had to bring wet towels and bucket of ice in order to keep their players cool. The Saudi Arabians were accustomed to the heat and didn’t really bother. Sweden took the lead instantly when Martin Dahlin, an astute header of the ball, scored the opener after five minutes, Kennet Andersson then followed up twice and Sweden progressed to the Quarter Finals with a 3-1 win against Saudi Arabia in Dallas. Sweden was just warming up. Next came the biggest obstacle so far when they travelled back to LA to face Romania at the Stanford Univerity Stadium, a game that has become legend in Sweden.
When Tomas Brolin scored the opener after one of the most famous free kicks in Swedish football history, the massive masses of yellow shirts in the Stanford stands celebrated more than they ever had. They were so close to reaching their first semi-final since the final loss against Pelé’s Brazil on home soil in 1958. This was in the 78th minute, only ten minutes from full time and the clock became the main antagonist in the Swedish hunt for success. It was a tense feeling, a strange feeling of “This is it, hold it! Hold it!” could be felt in the words of the commentators, in every Swedish living room and in every mind of every Swede in the Stanford Stadium stands.
So, when Romanian striker Raducioiu equalized two minutes from full time, most felt like it was all over. Now momentum was gone, the Swedes would collapse under the scorching sun in Pasadena and Romania would reach a rather deserved semi. It therefore seemed inevitable that they would go on to score again five minutes into extra time, Raducioiu again. Was this it? Was this what the entire people had been looking forward to the last two weeks?
Kennet Andersson made sure that wasn’t the case as he equalized after 115 to send the game into penalty shootouts, something that, thanks to goalkeeper Tomas Ravelli’s heroics, has become hoi polloi for every Swedish sports journalists when discussing best Swedish sporting moments ever.
Courtesy: Planet World Cup
Sweden begin. Håkan Mild. MISS! The yellow shirts bury their heads in their hands. Romania. Raducioiu. GOAL! Of course he scores, this Romanian demon that had terrorised Swedish minds all evening. Kennet Andersson next up for the Swedes, can he do what poor Håkan Mild could not? He steps up. GOAL! As cool as ever, Kennet. He has levelled the score, but only for now. Romania‘s star Gheorghe Hagi will now shoot. And. It’s. A. GOAL! Even cooler than Kennet Andersson. Hagi, who had looked lost during the game, now steps up to send the Romanians into premature euphoria. Tomas Brolin now. Looks a bit nervous, but I can’t blame him. GOAL! Yes! Brolin equalizes for the Swedes. Romanians now. Lupescu. GOAL! No mistake from the Romanians thus far, one miss for Sweden through IFK Göteborg’s Håkan Mild, whose face becomes buried deeper and deeper into his own hands, consoled and encouraged by teammates. 5-4 to Romania now, Sweden’s turn. Klas Ingeson steps up. GOAL! How cool is that, he bangs it into the roof of the net behind goalkeeper Prunea. 5-5! Romanians now through Petrescu. He steps up and… MISS! Ravelli makes a fantastic save to deny Petrescu and the Swedes are now level! Oh, Tomas Tomas Tomas! Now, Roland Nilsson to shoot for the Swedes. He takes his time, places the ball, steps up, breathes and shoots. GOAL! Yes! The captain has scored, 6-5 to Sweden and they are now in the lead. If Ravelli saves again, Sweden are through to the semis! Dumitrescu looks towards the goal. He makes the walk some might call the most nervous of his professional career. He approaches the goal, picks up the ball and looks Tomas Ravelli straight in the eyes. Dumitrescu steps up and shoots. GOAL! Yes, he scores and they’re now level. Sweden’s short-lived advantage was just that- short-lived. 6-6 and the shootout continues in the baking Los Angeles sun. Young Henrik Larsson next up, will his fragile juvenile mind fix this? A miss and his career could be forever ruined. This is a bold move from both Tommy Svensson and Henrik Larsson, this could be fateful, no matter what happens. Larsson takes up the ball, his long curly hair tickles his cheek and he brushes it away. He takes a few steps backwards and takes a breath. The stadium is quiet, no one dares to breathe, let alone speak. You could hear a pin drop at the often so loud Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto. Larsson shoots. GOAL! Yes! Yes! Yes! Larsson does it, he has done what he can, and his promising career can continue. Now it’s up to IFK Göteborg’s Tomas Ravelli. 30-year-old defender Belodedici makes the walk of his nightmares towards the ball in order to pick it up. Ravelli jumps in his goal, shows his presence. Belodedici is experienced and doesn’t care. He picks up the ball, places it and aims. Then he tries to place it in the lower left corner.
SAVE! Tomas Ravelli saves the penalty and dances away from the goal, knowing that he will be run over by a yellow storm in the space of seconds. The Swedish contingent in the stands roar, sing and shout- Sweden have done it for the first time in almost 40 years. Many miles away, scientists pick up an earthquake, 5.0 on the Richter scale, in the Palo Alto area. They consider evacuating, but then realize- “Oh, it’s the World Cup in Soccer. That should explain it.”
The Swedish gold-digging expedition continued. Sweden didn’t have to travel far for the semis. Their game against Brazil was going to take place at the Rose Bowl in LA. This game, covered by every news station and newspaper in Sweden, was going to become famous, no matter what happened. It was part of the Swedish triumph of 1994 and the only think the Swedish people now demanded was a medal of some sort. Beating Brazil was perhaps a bit too hard, but a bronze medal was something most would have been more than happy with. But the Swedish team had nothing else in mind than reaching the final. So, the Swedes sang their national anthem “Du gamla, du fria” with unprecedented pride and now stepped out on that pitch on the huge Rose Bowl, knowing that they were the pride of the nation no matter what. They played with pride and passion as well, won lots of balls and creates an array of chances. The second half was a very even affair where the two teams were often let of by mere coincidences. In the end, the coincidences coincided in Brazilian favour as the Swedish journey came to an expected end when Romario scored a classic Romario goal. He smothered the ball into corner, didn’t shoot, but just passed it in behind a chanceless Ravelli whose actions in the goal was less than futile.
In comparison, the bronze game became a stroll in the park as Sweden waltzed past a Stoichkov-inspired Bulgaria with 4-1. Brolin, Mild, Henrik Larsson and Kennet Andersson scored the goals, all in the first half, in a game that provided the Swedes with their first international medal in 36 years. These players, who had just been normal professionals before, had now become national legends. When they returned back to Sweden, they were greeted by a vast mass of supporters in the King’s Garden in Stockholm. To this day, all members of this famous team are football legends, icons that will always live in the minds of those who either were there or let alone were alive. Those goals, Kennet Andersson’s against Brazil, Brolin’s free-kick against Romania, Ravelli’s two saves and his dance afterwards- these are things that make a footballing nation, actions that forge a national identity, moments that have inspired, inspire and that will always continue to inspire Swedish younglings towards greatness and hopefully towards uncharted levels of success.