My Ultimate World Cup Hero: Ronaldo


When I think about the World Cup’s of my generation, a few great names spring to mind; Romario, Roberto Baggio, Oliver Kahn, Paolo Maldini, David Beckham and Zinidine Zidane to name but a few.

But for me, there is only one man that represents the World Cup more than the rest and that man is Ronaldo. Not the pristine, glamours Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, no I am talking about the original Brazilian one.

Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, to give him his full name, is a World Cup legend. At this time no one has beaten his tally of fifteen World Cup strikes in three World Cup tournaments.

Miroslav Klose is about to represent Germany at his fourth tournament and is only one goal off of Ronaldo’s record. I am sorry to say, but I’m hoping that the big German striker doesn’t match or beat Ronaldo’s record.

I like Klose but he doesn’t represent the same romanticism and excitement that Ronaldo brought to the tournament.

Back in 1994 in the States, we heard about this Brazilian kid that was tipped to be the new Pele. That seventeen year old didn’t manage to get on the pitch until the Brazilians were celebrating their trophy winning success but his name was already causing a huge stir.

When France 98′ arrived, Ronaldo had became football’s worldwide superstar. He had shone for PSV and Barcelona before being transferred to Inter Milan for a huge fee of £18m in 1997. At that time, heading into the 1998 World Cup, Ronaldo had bagged 101 league goals in his first four years in Europe. He was the Nike pin-up and enter the world’s grandest stage as the world’s best player.

All the cameras were on Ronaldo as he walked on to the field for the competitions opening match against Scotland. The Scots were stubborn and managed to hold off Brazil’s number nine. But it didn’t take him long to grab his first World Cup strike as he scored in the next group game against Morocco. He would go on and light up the tournament with his goals, powerful runs and superb skills.

Brazil would head into the final; eliminating Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands in entertaining encounters. Ronaldo would bag four goals along the way. Brazil would then meet the hosts France in Paris, with the South Americans heavily fancied.

Ronaldo was the main man heading into that final with a lot of the world looking at him. Once the teams were announced it seemed Ronaldo was dropped. Within a few minutes Brazil released a new team-sheet with their number nine starting. Speculation has continued to this day as to what happen. We do know that Ronaldo had suffered at least one seizure within twenty-four hours of kick-off. Talk was that Nike demanded Brazil’s coach Mario Zagallo play Ronaldo ahead of Edmundo no matter his condition. Zagallo later revealed at a public inquiry that Ronaldo had declared himself fit after visiting a Parisian hospital.

During those final ninety minutes Ronaldo seemed to be more like a ghost rather than the games best player. The whole Brazil squad seemed to lose inspiration and were void of any creative excitement. That day in Paris belonged to the French and in particular Zidane who nodded in two goals in a 3-0 win for Les Bleus.

The end to that World Cup seemed to break Ronaldo. He would never return to be the same player and would suffer from a ruptured tendon injury to his knee. In the three seasons leading up to the 2002 World Cup and Ronaldo only managed seventeen league appearances, although he did grab ten goals in those outings.

He did manage to keep himself fit for selection in 2002 and Luiz Felipe Scolari once again made him number nine for ‘A Seleção’. Much was made of that inclusion; was he fit enough? Is he carrying too much weight? Was 1998 still playing on his mind?

Ronaldo would respond in the best way and score in Brazil’s opening group game against Turkey. He would follow that up with three more in the remaining two group ties. The Brazilian superstar would add two more to that and taking his scoring tally up to six goals before yet another final. The story goes that the striker chose to have a bizarre haircut (a shaved head with a triangle fringe) because his child couldn’t tell the difference between daddy and his pal Roberto Carlos.

Along with Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, Ronaldo was the force that helped drive the team to the final. Ronaldo’s return to form especially at a World Cup was seen as a footballing fairytale.

But to complete the fairytale, Ronaldo and his Brazilian colleagues would have to defeat a defiant German side and their world-class goalkeeper Oliver Kahn in Yokohama. But 2002 was certainly Ronaldo’s year of redemption and the phoenix certainly rose from the flames on the thirtieth of June when Brazil’s ‘El Fenomeno’ scored a brace in their 2-0 victory!

Ronaldo was a hero again. He finished the 2002 finals in Japan and South Korea as the tournaments top scorer with eight goals. That meant in total he had reached twelve strikes and was two away from equalling Gerd Muller’s all-time record.

Ronaldo’s club career took off again after that superb performance in the first World Cup of this century. He was a wanted man again and Real Madrid wanted him to be their new Galactico. He would sign for Real in a deal in the region of €40m.

In the four years between the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Ronaldo would smash in 100 goals for the Spanish giants and winning a La Liga title in the process.

Heading into the competition in Germany 2006, Brazil were once again heavily fancied. They had a rich array of attacking talent with Kaka, Ronaldinho, Adriano, Fred and Robinho. Plus they once again had ‘Mr World Cup’ Ronaldo, who wanted to equal and then break the scoring record held by Muller since 1974.

This time age and injuries plus a penchant for parties had caught up with the three time FIFA world player of the year. He was suffering from strains and looked a bit over weight. He seemed to have lost a yard of pace and not as powerful as he once was. He may have only been twenty-nine by that World Cup but as I said everything seemed to catch up with him.

His first two performances against Croatia and Australia in the group stages came and went without a goal. The fans and press were on his back and telling coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to drop the star. But the coach persevered (probably hoping for another rise from this phoenix) and it worked to a degree too. In the third group match against Japan, Ronaldo would score, then he would add another and that was him level with the great Muller.

Then against Ghana, Kaka would run into the Africans half and slip a ball through. Ronaldo ran on to it, beating the offside trap. He closed in on the out rushing goalkeeper and with a wee step over he dumped the goalie on his backside and tapped the ball into an empty net. The Brazilian had done it, he’d become the World Cup’s all-time leading goalscorer. His teammates burst a gut to celebrate with him. Ronaldo’s infectious smile lit up the world that day and Brazilians were dancing around worshiping their hero once more.

But that would be the curtain call to Ronaldo’s career at the greatest footballing show. Brazil would once again humbled by an Zidane masterclass.

Ronaldo would only break twenty goals in a season again one more timw, back in Brazil with Corinthians. At thirty-seven the magician has now retired and is now a businessman and getting into the marketing world. Still enjoying the beaches, girls and parties along the way.

Ronaldo went from prodigal son to hero in a few short years, then in a day he was the ghostly villain more akin to an episode Scooby-Doo. That scar would take another four years to heal. He managed to pull himself up from the brink and give the World Cup another go. He then took the world by storm again, reclaimed his scoring touch and won the trophy he wanted the most. From there he would grace that tournament one last team. He would arrive out of shape but still left with three goals and the record he also craved.

For me Ronaldo will always be my World Cup hero. His story alone is unparalleled and on his day he was sensational. If Klose breaks the record in Brazil this summer then fair play to him but I really hope he can’t shift Ronaldo off the summit.

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