On the eve of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™,
few believed Ronaldo would ever rediscover the form that made him one of
the most-feared strikers of all time.
Voted FIFA World Player of the Year in both 1996 and 1997, Ronaldo’s
injury problems began shortly before the 1998 FIFA World Cup™, with the
next four years proving to be an incredibly bleak period for the
The player hit an all-time low in April 2000, rupturing the patella in
his right knee in an injury that would keep him out for nearly a year
and a half. After so long on the sidelines, many doubted whether O
Fenômeno would ever be the same again.
Meanwhile, the Seleção had made hard work of sealing their place at
Korea/Japan 2002 in Ronaldo’s absence, finishing well behind bitter
rivals Argentina in the South American qualifying zone. At the finals in
the Far East, the Auriverde were not considered amongst the favourites
to take the Trophy, that honour going to 1998 champions France and the
Plenty to prove
In the event, the under-fire Brazilians hit top form at just the right
time, with Ronaldo bursting from the shadow of his injury nightmare to
help fire his country to their fifth world title. The then Inter Milan
striker capped a magical month by winning the adidas Golden Shoe,
awarded to the tournament’s top scorer.
Ronaldo’s East Asian adventure began in the South Korean city of Ulsan,
against a strong Turkey side. The Turks went ahead in first-half injury
time only for Ronaldo to equalise just five minutes into the second half,
soothing his team’s nerves and paving the way for a hard-fought 2-1 win.
The following game against China saw Brazil rack up a fairly comfortable
4-0 victory, Ronaldo hitting his side’s fourth and final strike. Against
plucky Central Americans Costa Rica, Ronaldo plundered two goals in the
first 13 minutes as the Seleção ran out 5-2 winners.
In the last sixteen, Brazil were given a stern test by a determined
Belgian side, O Fenômeno having to wait until the 87th minute to make it
2-0 and seal his team’s place in the quarter-finals.
Up against the 1966 champions England, Ronaldo failed to find the net
for the only time in the entire tournament, although Rivaldo and
Ronaldinho stepped up to the plate to give the Seleção a 2-1 win. From
that point on, all Brazil’s goals would come from the lethal boots of
At the semi-final stage, Brazil once again found their path barred by
group rivals Turkey. In another tightly-contested clash, the Auriverde
dominated possession without finding a way past Turkey’s stubborn
resistance. The deadlock was finally broken by that man Ronaldo early in
the second half, but a see-saw encounter could have gone either way
right until the final whistle.
Life imitates art
On 30 June, Brazil took on Germany in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final,
with Ronaldo determined to exorcise the demons of France 1998. Struck
down with a mystery illness hours before the final on French soil,
Ronaldo came close to missing his side’s 3-0 defeat by the host nation,
the start of his four-year injury nightmare. A country held its breath
as rumours of knee pains surrounded the powerful front man, although the
player’s bizarre new hairstyle proved a resounding success in diverting
attention away from the troublesome joint.
The final itself followed the script to perfection. Chances came and
went for both sides before Ronaldo stamped his class on the game, firing
two goals past Germany shot-stopper Oliver Kahn, who had only conceded
once en route to the Final.
Mission accomplished, the former FC Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven star was
withdrawn before the end of the game to a rapturous ovation, while his
eight-goal haul made him the first player since 1974 to score more than
six times at the FIFA World Cup finals.
In the space of a month, Ronaldo had gone from being an injury doubt in
an underachieving side to the top scorer for the five-time world
champions. A remarkable achievement from a phenomenal player…