Everybody has random people who, for reasons that matter only to them, hold special places in their hearts. For Bokolis, that roster includes Kennet Andersson and Thomas Ravelli. I was told that Andersson jumped 15 feet in the air to head that ball into the net...and that's kind of how I would like to have imagined it.
Back in the day, Bokolis miiight have had a few fazools riding on this match. The only thing I'd ever seen was the instances of the goal seen in the video above and Ravelli running off with his fist raised after saving the final spot kick. I gather that this game must have been eminently forgettable to any neutral.
It was a Sunday afternoon. I was already preparing myself for a life after gambling, so I was trying to find other things to do. In this case, it was the beach. This specific day was not your typical lay-out-and-eyeball-babes, but rather (I was roped into) an outing with many other people.
For further background, Bokolis was doing exceptionally well at this World Cup. It was helping me re-fund after an absolute horrid prior nine months. By the time of the this match, I was a decent way towards backfilling my way out of the hole.
But the ground was always shaky.
It really was mean reversion- after months of rough going, Bokolis was on fire, on the right side of it for once. There was some expertise in it, too. For the most part, I had been feasting on low-hanging fruit during the group stage, like fading Columbia and Greece, both of which I knew to be shit. I jumped on lopsided matchups and snuck in a few draws, which always pay nicely.
But the ground was always shaky.
Bokolis hit every match I played in the group stage, but I couldn't play every match. While I knew Brazil to be the top side, they certainly weren't vintage and were prohibitive favorites in every match. Also, keep in mind that this was 1994 in America- it serious work to get any football information, never mind coverage/match footage. whatthefuck were we supposed to know about Morocco, Bolivia, Russia and Switzerland when we had a hard enough time getting games of Argentina or the Netherlands!
Bokolis had a hard enough time objectively determining whether Gheorghe Hagi was as good as they say he was. While they pumped him up as a number 10, I thought he was more of a engine-room midfielder. Bolivia had some guy called Erwin "Platini" Sanchez, which, after seeing him play, was quite the stretch- granted, that one wasn't as difficult to presume. But, I was supposed to determine whether Mustapha Hadji was good?!?
In the round of 16, the only loss in a 4-1 turn was Nigeria. Bokolis had taken a stand against what I perceived to be a weak Italy side with a hobbled Roberto Baggio somewhat out of favor with the coach. I was almost home, but il Codino foiled me- fucker, it would have paid so nicely.
But the ground was always shaky.
Being on the right side of both Saturday quarterfinals emboldened Bokolis to raise the stakes on the Sunday matches. But, I caught the bad one when Germany inexplicably pissed away the match to Bulgaria. Taking another hit would've undone much of what was built up.
Bokolis forgets how I'd gotten wind of the Germany result. I didn't watch the game. While the outing was outdoors, it was large enough that someone had a portable television. More likely, it was my running partner getting a hold of me. I was told Stoichkov hit a bomb of a free kick- after seeing it, the kick was nothing special, merely a decent curler against a badly positioned keeper. He was almost as culpable on the second. Bodo Ilgner now hosts a show on BeIn Sports...fitting.
Romania-Sweden was a tossup, both as a matchup and at the windows. Since a little bit more was riding on the result, Bokolis needed to be in touch with this game. As stated above, I was preparing for life after gambling, but it was a process. For this game, I pulled out the portable radio. Whatthefuck are you talking about asshole- they don't broadcast soccer games on American radio. They do for the Spanish speakers, pendejo. As my Spanish was on point back in those days, I could understand most of what they were saying, unless they spoke Puerto Rican-speed.
So, yes, Bokolis sat on the beach listening to a soccer match in Spanish on the radio. Sweden scored in the first half- on what I now know was a well-worked free kick. As time went on and full time approached, that Spanish started sounding more like mumbo-jumbo- I count my money in English, putos.
They spoke faster than the clock, for they announced a goal for Romania. This, Bokolis now knows, was not as well-worked a free kick. It deflected and fell kindly to Florin Radicioiu, who, rather than atrophying from being surplus at AC Milan, was plenty fresh to pounce and finish.
The match went to extra time. By this point, Bokolis could no longer understand Spanish. Soon enough, I hear, gooooooooolll de Roma-nia! It was Radicioiu again. No sooner that I'd stopped cursing, wait- what? Somebody was sent off? From Sweden?!? Oh, shit!
Despair set in. Radicioiu, in the right place to capitalize on a weak touch by a defender, slotted home his gift. Stefan Schwarz was then sent off for a cynical foul on Radicioiu to stop a counterattack. Listening to a Spanish language radio broadcast, it was easy to figure, I'm sunk.
Schwarz wasn't going to be missed. At this point, Sweden's plan was to bomb balls into the 6'4" Kennet Andersson. The full eleven wasn't necessary.
This brings us to the embedded video. Gooooooooooolll de Suecia. Bokolis goes crazy on the beach. Luckily, I had the good sense to sit far away from anyone. Andersson was 15 feet in the air for sure...for sure! I'll further ruin the memory by breaking down the tape.
Just before the throw in, you can see the Romanian back line in its proper form, virtually a straight line across. Allegedly, they opened in a 3-5-2 formation but, by this time, there are four at the back. They had likely switched to a 4-5-1, with Radicioiu up top. Since the only substitution was a like-for-like midfielders, at least one man is playing out of his nominal position.
The best guess is that Sweden was in a 3-3-3, with another man bombing forward because of the throw in.
You also see four other Romanian players; three are midfielders and one is a forward player who is not Radicioiu in a box around a potential target, Hakan Mild. What is important to understand is that Romania is now seriously out of position.
This setup dissuades (probably Klas Ingesson), who instead throws it in to Roland Nilsson, who has come all the way over from right back, able to do this because of the void left by the bad Romanian positioning. The Romanian playing the left side of midfield comes over to track Nilsson (or sneak up from behind), meaning all five Romanian midfielders are on one side of the field.
Nilsson has turned in time to spot the pressure. You'll notice that, of the four Romanians previously in a box around Mild, two drift into a useless position and one can't be bothered to be involved in the action. Only #5, Lupescu, seems interested.
Nilsson tries to play a one-two with Kennet Andersson, who has come back in the hole from his centre forward position. He has successfully sucked out the centre half Belodedici, who was probably better served to give Andersson his space in that position with his back to goal and leave it to the midfielders.
Nilsson slips his marker to take the return pass from Andersson, but the return pass is short and Nilsson has to deal with the onrushing Belodedici, who has come off of Andersson to challenge the imprecise return pass.
In this time, the midfielder who came over to pressure Nilsson has now given up on the play and is walking. So, of the five midfielders, two are in a useless position and two others- one of whom is Hagi- are walking.
Belodedici, already sucked out to tend to Andersson, has gone out even further to see about winning the short return pass. The thought of being so far from his goal is too much for him to bear; he is not fully committed and only does enough to force Nilsson to take a heavy (retreating) touch to keep the ball before turning to get back to his line while motioning for a midfielder to deal with it.
The only one available is Lupescu, who had drifted into the space Belodedici had vacated. By this time, Nilsson had retrieved, retreated and settled, and was now in a customary attacking position for a right back, with plenty of space. To boot, with Lupescu and Belodedici switching, they have lost track of Andersson. Nilsson floats in a pass that Andersson easily finishes.
While the present day goalkeepers are quasi-sweepers who will come well off their lines to get to a ball, in 1994, even national team keepers were comparative spazzes. Similarly to how, in baseball, they made the fat kid the catcher, outside of Italy and Lev Yashin, the goalkeeper was usually the guy crazy enough to want to do it.
While today's keeper would never let an attacker get to an angled cross at the 6-yard box, especially if he knows his defenders are out of position, you couldn't always count on 1994 keepers to do the same. Romania's Florin Prunea was no match for Kennet Andersson. Belodedici didn't have enough time to re-engage with Andersson and Daniel Prodan apparently wanted no part of it.
Not shown is that, a moment before, Patrik Andersson- no relation- flipped the ball to (probably Ingesson) to take the throw. As this Andersson is a defender, you can see him retreating at the very beginning of the clip. He apparently saw this defensive setup and wanted no part of it. Talk about serendipity!
Also not shown, to be fair to Prunea, is that he subsequently made two massive saves to keep Romania in it. Kennet Andersson latched on to an over-the-top ball to fire first time. Prunea dove to his right to save it. The ball had too much force for Henrik Larsson to redirect the rebound, and he had to take a touch to settle. This gave Prunea time to close the distance and bravely get in front of Larsson's eventual shot.Those were still days when players smoked cigarettes and Bokolis guesses that, the way they dragged ass in those final minutes, even while up a man, most of those Romanians were smokers.
They went to spot kicks to decide it. Sweden missed the first one, as Mild Jaap Stam-ed it. Ravelli saved one along the way. They were 4-4 after the requisite and, after Larsson converted, it was left to Belodedici to prolong the match. Ravelli saved and Bokolis, tension eased, did a little jig on the beach.
It took a few players doing the right thing, many players doing the wrong thing and some serendipitous convergence of events and circumstances to get Bokolis on the right side of this match. I suppose it remains so memorable to me because it was one of the few times that winning felt as good as losing felt bad. In the larger context, it was part of the "correction" of a really bad run and part of the last days, which culminated the following Sunday.
That is entirely another story.