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Cup players taking aim at shootouts WORLD CUP 1994


LOS ANGELES -- The soccer purists want it eliminated, saying too much luck is involved and not enough skill. They say the powers of world soccer should let great teams in a great tournament play in sudden death, or until one drops from fatigue.

Does the NBA end its games with a slam dunk contest? Does baseball have a home run derby?

Shootouts should be shut out, they say.

"It's not right to have a penalty shootout in this kind of game," said Swedish goalie Thomas Ravelli, who led his team to a 5-4 sudden-death shootout victory over Romania on Sunday by blocking two shots in the extended periods.

"When you play that hard for that long, it should be resolved on the field," he said. "The shootout just cheapens the game."

Sweden's win was the most dramatic in the quarterfinals, and the ninth shootout victory in World Cup history, only the second to go to sudden death. Bulgaria beat Mexico, 3-1, in a shootout earlier in the tournament.

Ravelli was the winning goalkeeper, but he was joined by a number of players from both teams who disapproved of the shootout.

Romanian forward Gheorghe Hagi: "Penalty kicks are not a matter of experience or skills. One kick, one break, and it's over. That's not the way it should end."

Swedish forward Tomas Brolin: "I don't like penalty kicks. I'd rather have sudden death. Sudden death is a better test of talent. Penalty kicks are too much like roulette, and the goalie usually doesn't have a chance."

Before Sunday's game moved into sudden-death penalty kicks, Sweden and Romania had played two 45-minute regulation and two 15-minute overtime periods, plus an initial shootout period where five players from each team take an unobstructed penalty kick from 12 yards out.

With some shots reaching nearly 100 miles per hour, the goalie has little chance.

"You have got to guess well," said Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos. "I think the goalkeeper has everything to win and nothing to lose. You must stand up there as long as you can and wait to see what the shooter is doing. Some teams can have lesser skilled players, and great shooters, and will win these types of games."

The U.S. team admitted that, and practiced penalty kicks for an anticipated shootout with Brazil. Bulgarian coach Dimitar Penev also has admitted he welcomed a shootout against a more skilled Mexican team.

But even opponents of the shootout say it adds an extra dimension to the game: goals.

After 78 minutes Sunday, the crowd of about 81,000 was more interested in doing the wave than watching Sweden and Romania play defensive patty-cake.

But the game became more exciting when it was tied 1-1 after regulation, and 2-2 after overtime, and 4-4 in penalty kicks after the five-shot initial shootout.

Then came the thrilling, sweaty-palmed, sudden-death drama.

"It was a heart attack game," said Romanian coach Anghel Iordanescu.

"I have to admit, there was excitement," said Ravelli.

And some strategy.

Swedish forward Henrik Larsson had the game-winning penalty kick, and he started one way before going to the opposite end of the goal to beat the goalie.

The guessing game also becomes a matter of nerves.

"Tomas Brolin said I should stay in the middle of the goal and on my feet as long as I could, because players get nervous," said Ravelli. "You should make a goal when you shoot a penalty, but there's a lot of nerves during a penalty shootout."

But despite the excitement and unpredictability, the shootout is not a welcome addition for the players.

"You have taken the control of the game out of the hands of the players and given it to Lady Luck," said Hagi.

"We could not just play this game forever," said Iordanescu. "A decision had to be made, and this was the penalty kick. I could not say we were at a disadvantage. Maybe this was our fate."

Swedish coach Tommy Svensson said: "It's better than a lottery. It has something to do with the skills of the players."




* Italy vs. Bulgaria at East Rutherford, N.J., 4:05 p.m., ESPN

* Brazil vs. Sweden at Pasadena, Calif., 7:35 p.m., ESPN



* Semifinal losers at Pasadena, Calif., 3:35 p.m., ESPN



* Pasadena, Calif., 3:35 p.m., Ch. 13

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