2002 World Cup revisited: Ronaldo lights up final scoreboard for Brazil

Paul Oberjuerge takes a look back at the 2002 World Cup, highlighting Ronaldo's heroics for Brazil as the standout performance of the tournament.
Brazil's Ronaldo fights with South Korean player Hong Myung-Bo during their frendly match in Seoul on November 20, 2002. Kim Jae-Hwan / AFP
Brazil's Ronaldo fights with South Korean player Hong Myung-Bo during their frendly match in Seoul on November 20, 2002. Kim Jae-Hwan / AFP

At the final of France 1998, Ronaldo was a lost and forlorn figure. The inheritor of Pele’s mantle as Brazil’s star of stars was listless and nearly invisible at the Stade de France. Zinedine Zidane was the dominant figure in France’s 3-0 World Cup victory.

Earlier, on the day of the final, Ronaldo had convulsions or, perhaps, a panic attack. His roommate, Roberto Carlos, later suggested: “Ronaldo was scared about what lay ahead. The pressure had got to him and he couldn’t stop crying.”

His breakdown, physical or emotional, and wretched performance, badly damaged his reputation.

Four years later, on June 30, 2002, sweet redemption was his. He scored both goals in Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Germany in the final, his seventh and eighth goals of the tournament, as Brazil won their fifth global championship.

“A weight has been lifted from my conscience,” Ronaldo said. “I’m free.

“All this celebrating could have happened four years ago, but destiny was that we would have to wait until 2002.”

His road from Paris to Yokohama had been strewn with obstacles. He had knee surgery while with Inter Milan in 1999, then, seven minutes into his comeback in 2000, the same knee exploded. He had more surgery and missed nearly all the 2000/01 season.

It was not clear if he would be fit for the 2002 World Cup, co-hosted by Japan and South Korea. He endured intensive rehabilitation ahead of the tournament and, with the help of a team of doctors and trainers, he was ready.

He scored in the 50th minute of Brazil’s opening 2-1 victory and added goals against China, Costa Rica (two), Belgium and, in the semi-finals, Turkey.

The Turkey goal was memorable. In the 49th minute of a scoreless match, Gilberto Silva gave the ball to Ronaldo 30 yards from the net and he did the rest, dribbling between and around four defenders, and, with his seventh touch, blasting the ball off the hands of the keeper and inside the far post. His two strikes against Germany were not among his best, but certainly were his most timely. The first came when Oliver Kahn, the Germany goalkeeper, spilt a shot from Rivaldo, and Ronaldo was there to smash it home in the 67th minute.

Twelve minutes later, he scored the clincher off a cross from Kleberson that was expertly dummied by Rivaldo, leaving Ronaldo open to score.

The celebrations began, led by the 25-year-old striker who had adopted, in the middle of the tournament, a bizarre, wedge-shaped haircut that is almost as jarring now as it was then.

The Germans gave him his due. “Ronaldo took full advantage of the opportunities that came his way,” midfielder Dietmar Hamann said. “He showed again what a great footballer he is.”

If Ronaldo’s France 1998 was not wiped away, it certainly was minimised by Japan-Korea 2002.

“My big victory, as I have said before, was to play football again, to run again and to score goals again,” Ronaldo said. “This conquest, our fifth title, has crowned my struggle, my recovery.”

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Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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