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Soccer-Brazil can recover to take third place-Larsson

Reuters

By Philip O'Connor

STOCKHOLM, July 11 (Reuters) - Brazil will have no problems bouncing back from their shock 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany to win the third-place playoff against the Netherlands on Saturday, according to former Sweden striker Henrik Larsson.

He was part of the Sweden team that suffered an agonising 1-0 defeat by eventual winners Brazil in the 1994 World Cup semi-final but thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 in the third-place playoff.

"It shouldn't be hard to reload after the loss to Germany," the 42-year-old told Reuters in an interview. "They (the Brazilians) are a very proud people, and it's important to them to finish the World Cup in a positive manner."

Larsson's 1994 Sweden team faced Brazil twice at the World Cup, drawing 1-1 in their final group game before meeting them again in the semis, where Brazil striker Romario broke Swedish hearts with the only goal of the game 10 minutes from time.

After the disappointment of defeat, the Swedes set their sights on winning the third-place playoff against Bulgaria, who had lost 2-1 to Italy in the other semi-final.

"It was a match we wanted to win. If I remember rightly, we talked about it straight after losing the semi-final to Brazil - 'We're not going to go home empty-handed,' we said.

"We started to prepare ourselves mentally, and it was noticeable when the game began. We were on our toes a little more than the Bulgarians."

DETERMINED SWEDES

It is an understatement typical of the laid-back, laconic Larsson, who back then was a dreadlocked 22-year-old forward at Dutch club Feyenoord when he was called up to play in his first major international tournament.

The Swedes attacked Bulgaria from the first whistle, opening the scoring through Tomas Brolin in the eighth minute, before he set up Hakan Mild for the second with a quick free kick on the half-hour mark.

Larsson netted the third seven minutes later and when Kenneth Andersson made it four five minutes before halftime the hapless Bulgarians were stunned into submission.

"We wanted to go home with a medal so it wasn't hard to prepare at all," Larsson says of his preparations for a game many observers now see as superfluous to the tournament, but which has taken on added significance for hosts Brazil.

"The World Cup in 1994 was my first championship, I was a little younger and, in that way, maybe it's a little easier to find the motivation for the bronze medal game," he says.

"To be fourth and without a medal when we'd played such a great tournament would not have been much fun, so that third place is something you can feel you get some joy from."

The win gave Larsson the confidence that would later see him succeed at the highest level playing for Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United.

HIGHEST LEVEL

"For my part, that World Cup proved to me that I could perform at the absolute highest level, with my appearances off the bench and then my goal in the third-place playoff.

"It proved to me that I could perform and that I had nothing to be afraid of. I just had to keep going and keep working."

The Swedish team recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of their win over Bulgaria by reuniting for a charity game against a select XI, which ended in a 4-1 win for the World Cup side. True to form, Larsson got his name on the scoresheet.

His focus is now on managing Falkenberg, who are due to take on Mjallby in the Swedish championship on Saturday just a few hours before Brazil kick off against the Dutch in Brasilia.

But he has been avidly watching the World Cup and believes the host nation will be eager to finish off an entertaining World Cup in style before their home fans.

Larsson reckoned they may even have it as easy versus the Netherlands as the Swedes did against Bulgaria back in 1994.

"I hope it'll be a good game," he said. "But from what I understand the Dutch, or (manager Louis) van Gaal in any case, aren't too excited about playing another game." (Editing by Ken Ferris)

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