Brazil's finisher has been headers, shoulders above rest WORLD CUP 1994

July 15, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

FULLERTON, Calif. -- One day Romario is bolting to the sidelines, swinging his arms and rocking an imaginary baby. Another day he is pumping a clenched fist in the air, or hoisting up the No. 1 finger in front of the Brazilian crowds. Sometimes he moonwalks, and other times he struts.

Romario acts like he owns the World Cup.

Maybe because he does.

Thus far, World Cup '94 has been Romario's Cup.

"Yes, I remember saying this would be Romario's Cup," said Romario, sounding a bit embarrassed about his prediction. "But I bet you Roberto Baggio [of Italy] said this would be his Cup, too."

It has been no contest.

Baggio has played well lately, but he struggled through three first-round games. Maradona showed flashes of his old self, but a failed drug test forced an early exit. Romania's Gheorghe Hagi was excellent, and perhaps the tournament's best show, but he's one of the billions who will watch Brazil play Italy in the championship game on Sunday.

Who else?

That brings us to Romario de Souza Farias, 28.

Romario.

"He finishes like no one. He has great ability, great velocity in short spaces. He's a born finisher. A lot of people think he is just hanging around doing nothing, then suddenly, bang, it's a goal," said striker Jose Roberto Gama de Oliveira, better known as Bebeto.

Yes, that Bebeto, the other half of Brazil's -- and now Hollywood's -- latest Dynamic Duo.

Bebeto and Romario were fierce competitors in the Spanish League until the Brazil national team brought them together. It was Romario who called Bebeto a chorao, meaning crybaby, because of the way he complained to officials.

It was Romario who called a news conference before the World Cup to announce that he would not sit next to Bebeto on the team's flight to California.

And now they are friends.

"He always was my friend," said Bebeto. "A lot of the other stuff that was said were lies. I have a lot of affection for him."

It's been that kind of tournament for Romario. Everything has been going right for Brazil's bad boy, whose eccentricity and arrogance usually resulted in team turmoil.

Romario deposited a left hook on the jaw of a Spanish League rival last January. His favorite hangout, besides the beach, is the penalty line where he can find easy goals. Each goal brings a new headline, and feeds an ego that at times has been out of control.

But World Cup '94 has been different.

Romario is passing the ball. He's going to practice. He's not staying up late. He's signing autographs. He's hustling back into the midfield for loose balls.

And, to mention a dirty word, Romario is playing defense.

"I will do anything in my power to win this title for Brazil," said Romario. "It has been a long time, 24 years, between the last Cup. We must make sacrifices."

The rebirth came two months ago when Romario's father was kidnapped and held for $7 million ransom. Six days later he was found, unharmed.

"Those were the longest days of my life, it gave me a whole new meaning of life," said Romario.

Romario says he is happy now. The olive-brown skin is the result of many leisure hours on the beach, and those huge, thick thighs show the power of a specialist whose only responsibility is to score.

"I'm the face of Rio. I'm a cheerful person who likes the samba and the Carnaval," said Romario, who has scored five goals in this tournament. "I love life. I want to enjoy it. I love the sun and the beach. That's what the Carioca [Rio de Janeiro resident] is like, he knows how to enjoy life and be happy. I'm happy. After all, I'm a Carioca."

A happy Romario is a productive Romario, but the production is from all areas. Against the United States, it was Romario who dispensed a splendid pass to Bebeto, steaming down the right flank, that provided the game's only goal.

Against the Russians, Bebeto fed a corner kick into the penalty area that Romario one-touched past a stunned goalkeeper for a goal.

Then Wednesday night, in the 80th minute, Jorginho gave Romario a centering pass that Romario headed in for the game's lone goal as Brazil defeated Sweden in the semifinals.

Romario is only 5 feet 6, and was the shortest player on the field.

"This game is not always about scoring, but learning where you place yourself," said Romario, who got inside his Swedish defender near the far post for the winning goal. "Sometimes, people think I'm asleep."

After the goal, Romario saluted the crowd. After the game, he held his index finger upward before exchanging hugs and shaking hands with players and fans.

And then he strutted, as only Romario could do, out of the stadium.

-! Just like he owned the place.

WORLD CUP

THIRD-PLACE GAME

Tomorrow

* Bulgaria vs. Sweden at Pasadena, Calif., 3:35 p.m., ESPN

FINAL

Sunday

* Italy vs. Brazil at Pasadena, Calif., 3:35 p.m., Chs. 13, 7

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