PALO ALTO, Calif. -- For nearly 79 minutes, this was the kind of game FIFA had been desperately trying to hide. No goals, and three, four and sometimes five players hanging back on the defensive end.
And then it became a historic game in the world's largest sporting event, great until the last shot.
Sweden midfielder Henrik Larsson scored in the lower right corner in a sudden-death penalty shootout, and then goalie Thomas Ravelli knocked down a shot by defender Miodrag Belodedici as the Swedes won a 5-4 sudden-death penalty shootout against Romania in a World Cup '94 quarterfinal.
Ravelli's last stop was only the end to an emotional game that featured many breathtaking plays, ones that the crowd of 81,715 at Stanford Stadium and a national television audience will be talking about for a long time.
There were vivid pictures of Sweden's Tomas Brolin putting the one-touch finish on a perfectly designed set play; and Sweden's Roland Nilsson's lobbing a soft pass to teammate Kennet Andersson, who somehow got high enough to head in a goal just barely past the hands of goalie Florin Prunea to tie the score at 2-2.
And how about Romania's Gheorghe Hagi, the closest thing to Magic Johnson in cleats, with those neat, tricky passes and the "cool" goal he delivered in the shootout.
Or Romania forward Llie Demitrescu jawing with Ravelli after he scored. Or Sweden star Martin Dahlin on the sidelines, with a foot injury, praying as Ravelli faced shooter after shooter. Ravelli responded twice with a clenched fist after knocking down shots.
And, finally, the Romanian players laying on the field with their faces buried in the grass, exhausted and eliminated, while the Swedish players held hands, and sang with fans who waved their country's flag.
"Penalty kicks in soccer is like roulette," said Hagi. "It's not a matter of experience or skills. It's just plain roulette. You live or die with one boot of the ball. I don't like roulette. I've never played roulette in my life."
"I've never been through anything like this before," said Ravelli, who made his 115th national appearance for Sweden. "Not only because of the penalty shootout. It looked like we were losing the game, but came back. Incredible."
Sweden will meet Brazil in a semifinal game Wednesday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It will be a rematch of an earlier first-round game that ended in a 1-1 tie.
It was a slow start for both teams yesterday as they looked like the heavy underdogs who were not expected to reach this round.
Sweden took a 1-0 advantage off a free kick in the 79th minute when Hakan Mild kicked the ball past a Romanian wall and Brolin circled in to drive it past goalkeeper Prunea.
But Romania came back, with Florin Raducioiu scoring in the 89th minute as Raducioiu caught the carom off an indirect kick by Hagi.
Romania went ahead, 2-1, in the 11th minute of the 30-minute overtime as Raducioiu took a loose ball from defender Patrik Andersson just inside the penalty area for a second goal.
Romania should have put the game away, but Prunea misjudged Nilsson's pass to Andersson for the goal that tied the game at 2 with about six minutes left in overtime.
"Prunea cried," said Ravelli. "A lot of Romanian players cried, I think."
Then came the shootout where each goalie is to face five shooters. Mild, the first shooter, put immediate pressure on Ravelli by having his shot sail over the goal.
But Ravelli knocked down a critical shot by Dan Petrescu to tie the shootout at 3-3. Both teams scored on their last shot of regulation, setting the stage for the sudden-death shootout.
Larsson scored easily, and Ravelli guessed right. Actually, it was to his left.
"I wasn't nervous," said Larsson. "I made my mind up I was going to score."
"There's a lot of nerves during a penalty shootout," said Ravelli. "You stand up as long as you can. You just can't throw yourself to one side."
It was the end of a great run for Romania, a nation worn down by gloom, poverty, political chaos and violence during the last four years since the collapse of communist rule. During the last three weekends, Romanians have poured into the streets of Bucharest celebrating World Cup victories.
"The fact we were in this phase of the tournament for the first time gave us great psychological advantage, and gave people at home something to cheer about since the revolution," said Romanian coach Anghel Iordanescu. "Both teams had the game in their hands. Maybe this was our fate. We could have been a winner too, but soccer has no mercy."
The ride continues on for Sweden, which only months ago had dissension and injuries.
Dahlin, the first black player on Sweden's national team, has been called a prima donna because of his outspokenness. Midfielder Klas Ingesson almost missed the World Cup after his car collided with a moose in early May, resulting in a neck injury, and defender Roger Ljung also missed time after fracturing his skull in a May 26 exhibition against Denmark.
"After what we've been through, it's very easy to see why this team sticks together," said Sweden coach Tommy Svensson.