After the 1992 European finals there was great hope for Sweden. They had made it to the semi-finals before eventually being knocked out by Germany 3-2. But there was excitement from the supporters. This was perhaps their best team since the 1958 World Cup when they were beaten 5-2 by Brazil in the final.
The Swedish faithful didn’t expect their team to win the World Cup. Not when it was taking place in the US, with the heat and humidity a major issue. But the hope was the team could go far and show the world what they could do.
This was a team with some top players. Thomas Ravelli in goal, Patrik Anderson and Roland Nilsson in defence, Stefan Schwarz and Jonas Thern in midfield, with a forward line of Tomas Brolin, Martin Dahlin and Kennet Andersson. They even had a young Henrik Larsson in the squad.
The team had qualified for the finals from Group Six, only losing one game as they finished top of the group by one point over Bulgaria.
The draw for the finals had thrown up some tricky games for Sweden as they faced a group containing Cameroon, Russia and favourites for the World Cup, Brazil.
The Swede’s first match was against Cameroon. 85,959 fans packed into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena all basking in the hot LA sun.
The game kicked off and could not have started any better for Sweden as they took an early lead. A free kick floated in by Thern, sailed onto Roger Ljung’s head to put Sweden 1-0 up after 8 minutes. It was the start the fans wanted. Cameroon hit back with two goals, Embe on 31 minutes, after the Swedish defence failed to clear the ball and the second goal coming just after the break. Oman-Biyik clipped one home after indecisiveness from the Swedish defenders again.
As the game wore on the Cameroon players started to tire. Sweden continued to pushed forward and Larsson collected the ball in the Cameroon half before unleashing a venomous shot from all of 30 yards. The ball crashed against the cross bar and fell into the path of Dahlin who chested the ball down before firing home. Sweden had pulled the game back level. With both teams struggling with the heat the game filtered out and finished level at 2-2. It was not the best of starts for Sweden but they could be pleased with a draw considering the conditions.
Next for Sweden came Russia. This time at the Pontiac Silverdome, watched by over 77,000 fans. The game did not start off too brightly for the team in yellow as after 4 minutes Russia were awarded a somewhat dubious penalty. The referee felt there had been a foul in the area, although replays showed it was possibly the most blatant of dives. Oleg Salenko scored confidently from the spot. Suddenly Sweden had it all to do.
They finally got their reward just before half time. Another controversial penalty given by the referee, which even Dahlin looked shocked that it was given after it was adjudged that he had been brought down. Tomas Brolin stepped up and confidently scored, as he slotted home to the keeper’s left hand side. Russia found themselves down to 10 men after Sergei Gorlukovich was sent off after two yellow cards. Sweden were now in the driving seat.
They took the lead on 60 minutes after some excellent work on the left by Jonas Thern. The midfielder sent in a cross which was met superbly by the diving header from Dahlin into the bottom corner, sending the Swedish faithful into raptures.
Sweden sealed the match not long after, Anderson broke down the right and put in a teasing cross for Dahlin again. This time he produced a flying header which flew into the back of the net. Sweden ran out comfortable 3-1 winners against 10 man Russia. Despite the early set back, the team were starting to produce good football, especially from an attacking point of view. Martin Dahlin was looking excellent in front of goal.
The final game of the group saw Sweden play Brazil again in front of over 77,000 people packed in the sunshine at the Pontiac Silverdome. But this was against Brazil, the favourites for the competition.
The game started well as Sweden opened the scoring on 24 minutes. Kennet Andersson scored a superb goal, lobbing the Brazilian keeper. Brolin had created it from the centre of the pitch, holding off a challenge before floating a pass onto Anderson’s chest. The Swedish striker brought the ball down and flicked the ball with his right foot over the goalkeeper. Brazil continued to probe, and Sweden could only manage to hold out until early in the second half, when Romario burst through to slot the ball home. The game finished 1-1, and both teams had qualified for the knockout stages. It was an excellent result for the Swedish team, not just the creditable draw against Brazil, but qualifying for the next round. Now the tournament had got serious and the fans were loving every minute of it.
Sweden finished runners up to Brazil and now faced Saudi Arabia in round 16 in the delightfully named Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Almost 64,000 fans saw Sweden take an early lead. Anderson on the left curled in an inviting cross, which Dahlin expertly headed into the back of the net with only 6 minutes on the clock. It was the start the team had been dreaming about. Both teams continued to have chances until Anderson popped up again with a fantastic individual goal. He flicked the ball over the defender and brought the ball down. Dahlin took one defender with him which left space for Anderson to fire a low shot just outside the area into the Saudi Arabia net. Dahlin and Andersson were forging an impressive partnership upfront.
Then came some amazing interplay from Brolin and Dahlin, passing back and forth, with Dahlin putting the ball just over the bar. The passage of play deserved a goal.
The Saudi’s came back into the game, looking for a goal which may have given them hope. But Ravelli in the Swedish goal continued to thwart them. Finally Saudi Arabia got their reward. Fahad Al-Ghesheyan cut in from the right and hit an unstoppable shot into the near post corner. With only five minutes remaining Swedish hearts were in their mouths, but a minute later, almost straight from the kick off, Sweden got goal number three with a flowing, incisive move. Brolin passed to Dahlin who, with one touch, put Anderson through. The tall striker scored, again a great finish in off the post. Sweden had done it. They were into the quarter finals and now, with 7 days rest, would have chance to recover.
The Swedes were looking more and more confident at each game. Brolin was making them tick with Dahlin and Anderson offering a potent attaching force.
Romania were up next for Sweden. The Stanford Stadium almost too capacity in the hot sun. Romania had Gheorghe Hagi in midfield as well as Florin Raducioiu upfront. This was no easy game for Sweden and turned out to be a classic.
Sweden almost took the lead early, another diving header by Dahlin cannoning off the post. Sweden were keeping Romania at bay reducing them to long shots. But with no more clear cut chances, the teams went in level at half-time.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first. Brolin hit a fantastic shot which was tipped over the bar. Suddenly the break came that Sweden were looking for. A nicely worked free kick slotted to Brolin, who fired the ball into the back of the net with 12 minutes remaining. The players were ecstatic, could they hold out for the final 10 minutes? However, it was short lived. With two minutes to go a deflected free kick fell into the path of Raducioiu who fired home, taking the game into extra time.
With both teams tired and struggling with the heat, extra time kicked off. Another mix up in the Sweden defence let in Raducioiu again, who slotted home from the edge of the box. With Sweden 2-1 down things went from bad to worse as Stefan Schwarz was sent off, picking up his second yellow for a cynical foul. The Swedish supporters, both in the ground and back in Sweden, were fearing the worst.
With only minutes remaining a hopeful long ball was pumped into the box. Like a guided missile it landed onto the head of Kennet Andersson who rose above the keeper to flick the ball into the net. Sweden had done it again. This time they had managed to equalise with 10 men.
The full-time whistle blew. Now the Swedish faithful would have to endure the nerve-racking penalty shoot-out.
Mild stepped up for Sweden to take the first penalty, the pressure building and clearly told, as Mild struck his spot kick high over the bar. Raducioiu took Romania’s first, firing home to give them the advantage. Penalties two and three for both teams all hit the back of the net, with Ingesson drawing the shootout level. Dan Petrescu was next for Romania with the chance to put his team 4-3 up with a penalty each left. The full back struck the ball to Ravelli’s left who guessed the right way and pushed the ball to safety. Suddenly the shootout was all square.
Both teams stepped up and scored their fifth penalty sending the shoot out into sudden death.
Young Henrik Larsson stepped up for Sweden. Taking a long run up he calmly slotted the ball into the left hand corner sending the keeping the wrong way. The screw was slowly turning, heaping more pressure on the Romanian taker. Miodrag Belodedici stepped up, knowing a miss would put his team out. He hit the ball weakly, too close to Ravelli, who once again pushed the ball away sending Sweden through to the World Cup semi-finals.
This was a truly classic match, which had everything. Goals, saves, sending off’s and penalties. For Sweden they had come through a massive test against an excellent Romanian side and had sent their supporters into a frenzy.
The semi-final had pitched Sweden against Brazil. This would be a real test for the Swedish team, but after holding them to a draw in the group stages they went into the match full of confidence.
The match took place back in the Rose Bowl, 84,569 people in the stand. Brazil, clear favourites, started well and on 25 minutes Mazinho had a shot cleared off the line. Sweden were struggling to get into the match as Brazil continued to miss chance after chance. Ravelli was in fine form as he continued to defy Brazil almost single handed, tipping over on 54 minutes.
If Sweden were struggling before they were suddenly really up against it when Jonas Thern was sent off for a bad foul. It seemed out an offence borne out of frustration. The Brazilians continued to attack, Mazinho struck a shot from the edge of the area which once again Ravelli pushed away. Finally, the inevitable happened in the 80th minute. A cross from the right was headed downward by Romario past Ravelli and into the Swedish goal. Brazil had taken the lead. The Brazilians continued to attack, which they had done all game, with Sweden offering nothing back in return. The final whistle blew and Brazil had knocked Sweden out of the World Cup winning 1-0. Brazil, as expected, had reached the final and went on to win the tournament beating Italy in the final on penalties.
For Sweden, however, they had struggled to get out of the blocks in the semi-final. It was by far their poorest match of the tournament. But for the supporters it was watched with great pride as nobody had expected the side to get that far.
Sweden played Bulgaria in the 3rd place play off running out 4-0 winners, all the goals scored in the first half. Brolin, Mild, Larsson and Anderson scored. Sweden finished the tournament as top scorers with 15 goals. At times their football was delightful, Brolin was excellent throughout the tournament, building on his Euro 92 performances. His link up play with Anderson and Dahlin, at times, was breath taking.
Had the tournament been held in Europe, it may have been so different for Sweden, with the likelihood of them reaching the final much higher.
The team’s one touch passing was excellent and the attacking force of the team was a match for most opposition they came up against. Sweden knew if they were struggling defensively then they had Ravelli in goal who could keep them in the match.
The Swedish team in the 1994 World Cup was a fantastic, skilful team filled with great players who worked so well together. They probably deserved to reach the final but came face to face with a Brazilian squad who never gave them a chance in the semi-final.
Sweden may never have a team like that again and you wonder how that did not manage to push on from two consecutive semi-finals in the European Championships and then the World Cup.
Unfortunately for Sweden, it just wasn’t meant to be.