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Brazil Escapes Denmark

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 4, 1998; Page C1

 Brazilian players celebrate Bebeto's goal during their World Cup quarterfinal match against Denmark. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)
NANTES, France, July 3 — A soccer match of the quality of Brazil's 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Denmark tonight at deafening Stade de la Beaujoire comes around maybe once or twice during a World Cup. Its teams do not fear each other, its goals are sudden and elegant and at the end, regardless of the outcome, it leaves supporters from both countries roaring their appreciation.

It also has one of the sport's most accomplished figures praising its beauty.

"Brazil and Denmark have shown what a game in the World Cup should be," said Brazilian Coach Mario Zagallo, 66, a player, coach or assistant for each of Brazil's record four championship teams. "It was honest and open-minded. . . . It was a very difficult victory, a victory of power and will, by a team that knew how to win but had a dignified Danish team to overcome."

Brazil advanced to Tuesday's semifinal in Marseille against the winner of Saturday's Argentina-Netherlands match. But it took two goals by midfielder Rivaldo, two magnificent assists by superstar forward Ronaldo and a few tense minutes at the finish to escape Denmark.

The Danes, happy just to have advanced this far in only its second World Cup, scared the life out of Brazil with goals at the beginning of each half. They went right at the Brazilians, just as the players and coach had boldly promised the day before, and never backed down. But with the match even at 2, Rivaldo scored on a 25-yard shot in the 60th minute for his third goal of the tournament.

"The team was fantastic — almost as good as the world champions," Denmark's Swedish coach, Bo Johansson, said. "It's always a shame to lose, but we played a world-class game and we should be proud of ourselves."

Denmark, a veteran squad bubbling with confidence after routing Nigeria in the round of 16, took the lead with stunning quickness.

Ninety seconds had passed when Brian Laudrup charged into the penalty area and passed back to Martin Jorgensen, who smashed the ball between the near post and goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel. It marked Brazil's first early deficit of the tournament, but of more concern to Zagallo, it showed that his team's defense is vulnerable to an efficient attack.

Shaken a bit, Brazil finally found a rhythm. In the 11th minute, Ronaldo drew Denmark's attention 40 yards from the net and slotted a wonderful pass to Bebeto making an undetected diagonal run. Holding off a late challenge, Bebeto delivered a low shot out of the long reach of 6-foot-4 goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.

The early goal couldn't have come at a better time for Bebeto, 34, who has been subjected to severe fan and media scrutiny for his subpar play and apparent inability to mesh with Ronaldo. But for one fine moment, they formed a perfect pair, and celebrated with a joyous hug.

Fifteen minutes later, Ronaldo was at it again as a playmaker. Moving the ball quickly from right to left, Brazil badly outnumbered the Danes just outside the penalty area. Ronaldo surveyed the situation and pushed a pass into the penalty area, where Rivaldo met it in stride. With Bebeto on his right serving as a shield, Rivaldo had a clear path to the goal. Schmeichel went low, so Rivaldo chipped it over him for a 2-1 lead.

As halftime arrived, there was a feeling — even among the raucous Brazilian spectators — that despite the score, Brazil was by no means out of danger. And it took just five minutes for Denmark to get the equalizer. Brazil's Roberto Carlos failed to clear an airborne ball from the penalty area with a wild scissors kick, allowing the unmarked Laudrup to rip a bouncing ball into the upper right corner from 10 yards.

But Brazil kept its composure and patiently waited for its next opportunity. It came in the 60th minute, although it didn't appear to be much of an opportunity at all. Given a wealth of land far from the net, Rivaldo pushed the ball forward before unleashing a hard, left-footed shot that streaked inches from Schmeichel's gloved left hand before settling in the lower right corner.

The Danes were behind again, tiring and Brazil seemed to have an answer to all of their challenges. But with two more opportunities in the final 15 minutes, Denmark came excruciatingly close to forcing sudden-death overtime. Both chances were from an unlikely source, veteran central defender Marc Reiper, both close to the goal with Taffarel left helpless. First, on the end of a pretty three-man combination, Reiper pushed a shot narrowly wide right. Then, in the 89th minute, his short header skipped off the top of the crossbar.

"We were not afraid," Johansson said, his voice cracking with emotion. "To the end, we tried to beat them. . . . It's over now. It's been a fantastic adventure that only a few persons in life will have a chance to experience. Even if we didn't win, we had a good time."

So did everyone else.

Notes: Cafu, Brazil's starting right back, will miss the semifinal after getting his second yellow card of the elimination rounds. . . . Danish midfielder Michael Laudrup, Brian's older brother, retired from the national team after tonight's game. He made 104 appearances and was the only Dane to play in two World Cups.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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