In qualification for the 1994 World Cup, Sweden won a highly competitive group ahead of Bulgaria’s golden generation and Eric Cantona’s France. This offered a sample of just how potent this Swedish side was. Sweden’s bronze medal winning run was truly something special.
Sweden’s Bronze Medal Winning Run That Took the 1994 FIFA World Cup by Storm
1994 Group Stage and Saudi Arabia Clash
Cameroon was the surprise package of the previous World Cup and they made up Sweden’s opposition in the first match. The now 42-year-old Roger Milla was hoping for another magical summer, but another Roger, Ljung, jeopardized Cameroon’s chances in the eighth minute. This distress lasted for the majority of the first half, but the game was turned on its head by the 47th minute. However, Martin Dahlin blessed Sweden with the equalizer 18 minutes later. The final scoreline was 2-2. Next, Sweden had a crucial match against Russia.
Sweden got an early lead against Cameroon, but they were on the wrong end of a rapid penalty against Russia. The eventual top goalscorer Oleg Salenko converted it with confidence. However, 35 minutes later, Tomas Brolin returned the favour but converting his penalty with even greater composure. Then it was time for Martin Dahlin to shine again, just like he did against Cameroon, scoring two headers in the second half, one of which were one of the goals of the tournament. Sweden won 3-1 and made the Russian submarine sink.
Unless Cameroon could manage a miracle demolition against Russia, Brazil and Sweden had already secured their place in the round of 16, but Sweden and Kennet Andersson had no plans to let Brazil dictate the match. No one, except possibly Franco Baresi, could stop prime Romario, though.
Nonetheless, Sweden were in the last 16 where Saudi Arabia awaited them. A Saudi side that triumphed over a Belgian side that beat the Netherlands. But Martin Dahlin and Kennet Andersson ultimately granted Sweden a comfortable win, despite Fahad Al-Ghesheyan’s great consolation goal.
Dramatic Quarter-Final Against Romania’s Golden Generation
In the quarter-finals, Sweden would face off against Romania’s golden generation, who had won a competitive group and defeated Argentina in the round of 16. The match was stuck at 0-0 for a long time, until the 78th minute. Brolin converted a brilliant free-kick variant and sent the Swedish fans into delirious celebrations, but Florin Răducioiu dampened the mood 10 minutes later. Extra-time loomed, and seemingly a Romanian win, as Răducioiu gave Romania the lead and Stefan Schwarz was sent off in the 101st minute. But Kennet Andersson once again rose to the occasion, above Florin Prunea, and made it 2-2.
Håkan Mild took the first penalty. Six penalties later, Mild was, if possible, even more devastated. Everyone had converted their shots except him. Răducioiu, Andersson, Hagi, Brolin, Lupescu and Ingesson. At this stage, Mild would be a scapegoat for the rest of his career. Then it was time for penalty number eight. Dan Petrescu versus Thomas Ravelli. Next, Roland Nilsson stepped up. Nilsson’s most recent penalty shootout memory was against Barcelona in the 1986 European Cup semi-final, where he missed, but there wasn’t any doubt this time.
The next matchup was highly charged. Dumitrescu against Ravelli. Earlier in the match, Ravelli scolded Dumitrescu for diving, to which the Romanian replied by spitting. But Dumitrescu’s replied more convincingly from the penalty spot. As penalties were approaching, a young Henrik Larsson had the chance to win the match, but the ball was slightly too difficult to control in time. He proved vital from eleven meters, though. However, this match would instead be remembered for another reason. Thomas Ravelli became a hero.
Semi-Final Heartbreak Against Romario’s Brazil
Brazil and especially Romario had been emphatic throughout the tournament, scoring against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals and in all group stage matches. Now the Swedes and Brazilians were to face off in the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup. It was the first time Sweden reached this stage since hosting the competition in 1958, where Brazil denied them a momentous title. History repeated itself and Brazil won, but with just a single goal. To this day, Brazil-Sweden is the joint-most common World Cup fixture of all time.
Along with Sweden, Bulgaria were the big surprise that summer, having defeated giants Argentina and Germany and only narrowly succumbing to a Roberto Baggio-inspired Italian side in the semi-finals. But the Bulgarian side had their own talisman – Hristo Stoichkov. This Stoichkov-inspired Bulgaria stood between Sweden and a bronze medal. Sweden would have to beat Bulgaria in the third-place play-off of a World Cup. These two sides were even from the same qualifying group; in Stockholm, Sweden won 2-0 and drew 1-1 in the return fixture in Sofia.
In Los Angeles, history was made. Four goals in the first half. Perhaps the greatest half ever by the Swedish national team. Stefan Schwarz in particular had the time of his life with his dribbling and Henrik Larsson scored his first goal at a major tournament. Beyond the convincing scoreline, the match also highlighted just how strong this Swedish side was when Arsenal’s Anders Limpar was subbed in with 10 minutes remaining. The only 10 minutes he played that summer. In almost any other era, Limpar would’ve been a key player in the starting XI, but this fierce 1994 Swedish squad had relegated him to the bench.