8. Ronaldo sets the record straight as Brazil return to the top of world football – World Cup Final, Tokyo, Japan 2002
Following on from the Brazilian anguish of 1998, in 2002 the world was once again focused on Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima the man they call Ronaldo. For Ronaldo, the journey to this moment began four years previously in France, on the day of the World Cup final.
Ronaldo’s nightmare of four years previously had dominated the news for the remainder of that summer. But things weren’t about to get easy for the man dubbed “the phenomenon”.
Brazil had suffered its worst defeat in a proud pedigree of 68 years old World Cup history. The favelas were shaken. Proud, colourful, partying cities were subdued. The public wanted answers. The Brazilian national congress was to expose the most chilling and riveting cross-examination of a World Cup finalist that could possibly be imagined. In the weeks following the final (see defining moment #9) France celebrated. Brazil investigated.
The big day had arrived with little fuss, the final was evenly poised. Brazil, historically the world cup’s most famous competitors, lined up against the solid hosts who’d found ways to win all the way to the final. Just outside of Paris, the Brazilian squad dined at lunchtime at the Chateau de Grande Romaine in Lésigny. The squad retired back to their hotel rooms in pairs, which saw Ronaldo sharing with Roberto Carlos. Suddenly, Ronaldo began shaking uncontrollably and frothing at the mouth. The Brazil left back ran through the hotel punching doors trying to alert anyone he could get the attention of, one of those was Edmundo who was rooming next door. He held the uncontrollable Ronaldo down whilst teammate Cesar Sampaio administered first aid and prevented Ronaldo from swallowing his tongue. Details of all these happenings were read out in congress by Edmundo.
Following his episode, Ronaldo slept for the whole afternoon. The squad, according to Edmundo, rested but were subdued and worried. When Ronaldo woke, he joined the rest of the squad for tea. A distressed Leonardo, insisted Ronaldo be told of the episode. While the rest of the squad travelled to the Stade de France, Ronaldo went for tests at the Lilac clinic in Paris. He was given the all clear to play and joined the rest of the squad later, insisting that he do just that and don the famous yellow jersey. The pre-match confusion of his selection became clearer.
During the investigation, someone had penned a ready made scapegoat: Nike. The clothing manufacturer had signed a £105m deal with the Brazilian Football Federation two years before the tournament. Were Nike to blame? Was pressure from commercial interests forcing Brazil to select a clearly unfit Ronaldo? The Brazilian inquiry became focused on whether there was wrongdoing in the partnership which resulted in the devastating team selection error. Ronaldo eventually testified, although not many details were revealed.
Further investigation found Nike to be clear of any wrongdoing in his selection. Ronaldo’s tests were clear, the fit remained unexplained. The Brazilian people were, and still are, left with feelings of anger, frustration and emptiness over the saga. Doctors maintained since these tests were clear and Ronaldo hadn’t suffered any further episodes the fit was beyond the realms of explanation and remained a once in a lifetime occurrence in top level sports. Conspiracy theories were rife, not only the Nike saga. In January 2002 it was suggested that due to Ronaldo’s knee problems throughout the tournament, he was administered a dose of xylocaine shortly before his fit and the fit was caused by the painkiller accidentally entering a vein, which is a known effect of this drug’s administration. This story seems more likely than some of the conspiracies that surfaced in the aftermath…
On the pitch, Ronaldo had moved to Inter Milan the year previous to France 98. He’d impressed in his first season, winning the UEFA Cup by scoring the winning goal in a 3-0 victory over Serie A rivals Lazio. But during the 1999 season, Ronaldo suffered a serious knee injury which was to sideline the Brazilian for months. His return in April 2000 lasted only minutes before a recurrence forced him to leave the field and it was evident further survey was required.
Ronaldo would miss the entire 2000-2001 season and the majority of each season either side of it due to his knee requiring 2 operations and lengthy rehabilitation. Hardly ideal preparation with the World Cup less than a season away.
When the tournament arrived, Ronaldo began in blistering form. Brazil stormed through their group, winning all three games with R9 registering in each encounter. Sweeping aside Belgium in the next round, followed by England in the quarter finals (thanks to a memorable free kick from Ronaldinho lobbing David Seaman) Brazil faced group stage opponents Turkey once again, where a nail biting encounter was settled from a solitary goal from Ronaldo in the second half, leading the Brazilians to another place in the world’s greatest showpiece.
Germany had carved their path to the final in more difficult circumstances; relying on three consecutive 1-0 successes to stake their place in the mouth watering clash. After winning their group, tight knockout matches were marginally edged by the Germans thanks to a superb tournament from goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.
With the lineup confirmed and the world’s attention focused, Brazil aimed to banish their woes from the previous tournament against one of the tournament’s most solid and organised sides. Rejuvenated under Rudi Voeller, the Germans had conceded only 1 goal on their way to the final; an 88th minute Robbie Keane equaliser in the second group game.
The final arrived with little drama, certainly far less than the previous tournament. The match itself had a build up story in its own right thanks to events from four years previously, the main talking points of the game were dwarfed into sideshow status. Nobody seemed to care if Germany could stifle Brazil’s creative spark, the worldwide audience were obsessed with the fairy tale possibility of Ronaldo and Brazil burying their nightmarish memories of France 98.
The first hour was a tense affair, Germany indeed did stifle Brazil and hit the post thanks to a Neuville free kick brilliantly saved by Marcos in the Brazilian goal. Brazil came close too, with a curling Kleberson effort hitting the crossbar just before half time. The Germans did not live up to the prematch billing of parking the bus, but took the game to Brazil and maintained possession well.
After 67 minutes, Rivaldo hit a long range shot at Oliver Kahn and in what should have been a routine save, the German keeper fumbled his strike, allowing Ronaldo to pounce and bury the ball into the net to give Brazil the lead.
Twelve minutes later, Brazil attacked again. Rivaldo’s dummy allowed Ronaldo to retrieve possession and beat Kahn with a well placed side foot shot. The game was over. Brazil had shattered all sour memories from the previous final and were on their way to claiming their fifth World Cup.
As Ronaldo was substituted, he was visibly emotional. He’d scored in every game with the exception of the England duel and was a unanimous choice for the player of the tournament. For neutrals, there was a sense of joy for the Brazilian who’d hit peak form throughout the tournament and had now scored 8 goals, granting him the status as the top scorer. The fairy tale was complete and after the horror of Paris, the world had now witnessed the closing of an unfinished chapter in World Cup history, the question of whether Ronaldo and Brazil could deliver on the world stage the next tournament after their horror show had been memorably answered.