U.S. team moves on to second round-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 TC 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 slingshot.

"We'll be prepared because mentally it's easier to prepare for a great team," Tab Ramos said.

WORLD CUP TODAY

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

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

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