Brazilians love L.A., land of opportunity WORLD CUP 1994


LOS ANGELES -- The Brazilians feel right at home here. This is L.A. Hollywood cool. Beverly Hills hip. All the cool dudes have one name. Magic. Michael. Jack.

And then there's Brazilian soccer cool. Samba. Steel drums. Chants. Flair. Creativity. And the one-namers. Romario, Bebeto and Cafu.

"Hey, this is great place, great location for our fans in this country to watch us play, and, of course, there is pressure, always pressure," Bebeto said. "When we win title, this is best place in U.S.A. to win it, among the stars."

If Brazil is not destined to win World Cup '94, then it has been put in a great situation. A pro-Brazilian crowd will pack the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., tonight for Brazil's semifinal against Sweden.

Everywhere the Brazilians go here, legions of their fans pack hotels and the practice fields just to get a glimpse of the stars. Police had to clear the hotel lobby where a Brazilian news conference was scheduled for yesterday morning.

"We are like the U.S. Dream Team, or the Cowboys, huh?" Bebeto said.

How about them Brazilians?

"Yes, but with expectations come pressure, and anything short of the title will be a national disaster," said Zetti, the team's reserve goalkeeper.

There is plenty of pressure on Brazil. Brazil has won three World Cup titles, but none in the past 24 years. Brazil is a country of

150 million people, and everyone, it seems, is a coach.

They're starting to get a little edgy. Well, a lot edgy.

The Brazilian media has conducted polls on who should be benched. News conferences turn into debates between Brazilian journalists and coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. President Itamar Franco has suggested changes in the lineup, and so has former soccer star Pele and even Parreira's mother.

"Being a football coach is a pleasure, it's my life," Parreira said, "but being the coach of Brazil in the World Cup is something else. You cannot have fun in this position, only if you succeed and win the World Cup. Then it will be a full pleasure."

The pressure seemed to ease after Saturday when Brazil beat the Netherlands, 3-2, in the quarterfinals. Brazil seemed to do the things it needed to win. It scored early, spread the field and had harmony on its front line with Romario and Bebeto, two of the most feared scorers in the game.

"When they are at the top of their game, they are unbeatable," said U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos. "What you have to do is stop their rhythm, frustrate them, then capitalize."

Sweden, having its best World Cup since it lost to Brazil in the 1958 championship, is not intimidated. It tied Brazil, 1-1, in a first-round game. Sweden has a 0-4-2 record against Brazil.

"What happened two weeks ago in Detroit doesn't matter and neither will anything from the past," Sweden midfielder Jonas Thern said. "But I do think the fact that Brazil has won so many games works in our favor. The longer you can go without a victory, the closer you get to your first victory, at least I hope so."

Sweden's style could cause problems for Brazil. The Swedes are organized, disciplined and methodical. They seldom get caught

out of position, and their midfield did a good job of controlling the ball against Brazil last time. But Sweden will be without midfielder Stefan Schwarz (two yellow cards), and Thern will be slowed by an ankle he sprained nearly a week ago.

"The key to stopping Brazil is cutting off the balls from the midfield to Romario and Bebeto," Swedish defender Joachim Bjorklund said. "It won't be easily done if we're without those two guys."

Thern has been effective in getting the ball to Swedish forward Martin Dahlin. This is a team that loves to go forward, and Dahlin (four goals, one assist) and Kennet Andersson (four, two) give Sweden the highest scoring pair in the World Cup.

Forward Tomas Brolin also has played well lately with more creative passes and taking up the scoring slack when Dahlin has struggled.

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