PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Welcome to the World Cup '94 quarterfinals, or the European soccer club.
All the gang is here. Klinsmann, Romario, Baggio, Hagi. These are the names that dominate European soccer. These are the guys dominating World Cup soccer, too. Of the eight quarterfinalists, seven are European.
The only non-European team still alive is Brazil. And in the opposite bracket is Germany, the reigning World Cup champion and the most consistently dominant team on the planet for the past decade.
Germany and Brazil are two matches away from a showdown for the World Cup title. Brazil vs. the Netherlands and Italy vs. Spain are today's matches; Germany vs. Bulgaria and Sweden against Romania are scheduled for tomorrow.
A Germany-Brazil final would be the marquee matchup that FIFA and ABC would love to have. Nothing sells like the two big boys.
"I think Brazil has the best players, but they have not been overwhelming," said all-time soccer great Pele, of Brazil. "Everyone is talking about Brazil-Germany, but Holland is a team that will attack, that will play to win. This is a test for Brazil. It will be a good game."
Although Brazil and Germany are the heavy favorites, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain were also expected to make it to this round. The surprises are Bulgaria, Romania and Sweden.
"Well, the Europeans just tried hard enough," German sweeper Lothar Matthaeus said. "What we want as Europeans is for a European team to become a champion on a continent outside of Europe."
It has never been done. All three (West) German titles and all three Italian titles were claimed on European soil, as was the lone English title.
Likewise, nearly all Latin American World Cup winners prevailed in their own hemisphere. Brazil, which won in Sweden in 1958, is the only team to carry the Cup home across the ocean.
Brazil and the Netherlands may stage the best quarterfinal game.
No question, Brazil has the better team, and its offense, with forwards Romario and Bebeto, is geared to take advantage of the Netherlands' weak defense. But Brazil also has a habit of falling apart when things are not going well.
There was dissension when the Brazilians couldn't score against the United States, but the Americans weren't experienced enough to take advantage. The Dutch can, led by Dennis Bergkamp and goalie Ed De Goey.
"I know they'll throw the responsibility on me if Brazil is eliminated, but I'm ready for it," Romario has said. "I'll give my life to bring the fourth [championship]."
Italy's Roberto Baggio came to life against Nigeria, and just in time. His goal in the 89th minute forced an overtime and his penalty kick won it.
Italy gets goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca back for this round, and coach Arrigo Sacchi has named him to start. Pagliuca had been suspended for the past two games after receiving a red card.
After a slow start, Italy seems to be gaining momentum.
But the Italians must be aware of Spain's counterattack. Midfielders Jose Luis Caminero and Juan Goicoechea are creative and can control the pace of the game. Spanish goalkeepers have faced more shots than any other team in the tournament, but Andoni Zubizarreta has allowed only two goals in his three games.
"We have a new life now after the win against Nigeria," said Paolo Maldini, who will play in the middle of the defense again in the absence of the injured Franco Baresi. "The team is getting better. Our confidence is growing."
Germany also had a wake-up call, and it came in the second round after the Germans benefited from a referee's call on a penalty-box tackle against Belgium. Rudi Voeller has shown that he remains a scoring threat at 34, and is the perfect complement to Juergen Klinsmann. The Germans have had some problems with injuries. Midfielder Matthias Sammer is questionable with a leg injury, and Matthaeus, a defender, will play but will be slowed by a foot injury.
Bulgaria will be without defender Emil Kremenliev for the quarterfinals, but it will have three other players back who had been suspended from the round of 16 game. Bulgaria will try to slow the pace against Germany and pull another upset as it did against Mexico and Argentina.
Romania continues to impress and has gotten stronger with the return of Florin Raducioiu, who had to miss the round of 16 game because of yellow cards, and the return to form of Ilie Dumitrescu, who didn't do much in the first round.
Sweden has exceeded expectations as well, paced by forward Martin Dahlin, Kennet Andersson and Tomas Brolin.