U.S. team moves on to Brazil

June 29, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- That rush of warm air felt around the Los Angeles area yesterday was not another high pressure system adding to the heat wave, but the collective exhaling of the U.S. World Cup team after learning it had advanced to the second round of the tournament.

After losing to Romania on Sunday and placing third in Group A, the U.S. players had to wait while a plethora of possibilities played themselves out before they could be sure that their 1-1-1 record would send them through to the round of 16. The team knew by mid-morning that it had made it, after the Mexico-Italy and Norway-Ireland games had ended in ties.

But then the players had to wait several hours to learn the identity of their next opponent. After settling for a 1-1 tie against Sweden yesterday, tradition-drenched Brazil will play the United States on a day filled with symbolism in more ways than one: July 4, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto.

Brazil, the winner in Group B, won all of its three first-round matches and allowed only one goal, that to Sweden.

"I'm psyched," Alexi Lalas said. "If we want to go on in the tournament, we have to play against the best."

Never mind that Brazil is the favorite of many soccer experts to win the World Cup and that the next game may be the last for the young U.S. team. The Americans can take some pride in the fact that they met their avowed goal of reaching the second round, for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930.

By advancing, the United States also avoided becoming the first host team to fail to advance.

U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic needed no reminding of Brazil's surplus of talent.

When discussing the team with reporters yesterday, Milutinovic held up his hand when asked how his team would be able to counter Brazil's speed and skill.

"Please," he said, feigning exasperation, "you must give me a chance to rest."

The U.S. team will not have a chance to rest on its considerable laurels.

At this point in the tournament, everything the team does is historical for soccer in this country. Its tie in the first game against Switzerland gave the United States its first point in the World Cup since 1950. and its surprise triumph over Colombia was the first victory since then.

The challenge for the U.S. team is as obvious as it is enormous. Brazil is a giant in the sport and the United States is a tiny team with a sling


"We'll be prepared because mentally it's easier to prepare for a great team," Tab Ramos said. "You know you have your work cut out for you, it's very hard and you're not expected to do anything. I think that makes it easier.

"I like Brazil a lot. To the people who really like soccer and who have watched the World Cups over the last few years, it's almost like you have a little part of your heart that says you want Brazil to do well because they play soccer so well. You want the best team to win, you've enjoyed watching them the whole time."

Milutinovic may be facing the same problem he had when his inexperienced Costa Rica team played Brazil in the 1990 World Cup. What do you say to your players on the eve of their playing against their idol?

"I tell them, 'Please, no ask for autographs before the game,' " Milutinovic said.

There'll be no such problem with the U.S. team, Milutinovic said, because they don't know any of the Brazilian players.


* Morocco vs. Netherlands at Orlando, Fla., 12:35 p.m., ESPN

* Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia at Washington, 12:35 p.m.


Group F

Morocco (0-2-0) vs. Netherlands (1-1-0)

Site: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

Time: 12:35 p.m.


Outlook: The Netherlands can advance to the second round with a victory.

Group F

Belgium (2-0-0) vs. Saudi Arabia (1-1-0)

Site: RFK Stadium, Washington

Time: 12:35 p.m.

TV: None

Outlook: Saudi Arabia can become the first Persian Gulf country to advance to the second round with a victory. A tie would leave it with four points, in good position to advance. Belgium will sideline several players to give them additional rest or keep them from being suspended if they pick up yellow cards.

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