ENTER the heavyweights. With all
respect to Ronaldo, who notwithstanding his real or imagined carrying of
a few extra kilos could never be described as a footballing lightweight,
tonight sees the grand entrance of the team everyone wants to see.
Berlin's renovated Olympic Stadium is the suitably grand venue as the
incomparable boys from Brazil open their quest for a sixth title, with
unpredictable Croatia providing the opposition in the opening Group F
meeting tonight (AEST).
The roll call of previous Brazil sides weighs heavily on the squad of
today, but the bulk of this year's vintage come to the tournament with
winners' medals already locked in their trophy cabinets from 2002.
As he was four years ago, the man of the moment is Ronaldo, the subject
of much diplomatic dispute in recent days amid constant allegations that
he is overweight. He has also been dogged by blisters and a fever since
arriving last week.
Even former great Tostao opined that the great man is currently "an
The Brazilian media have played up the controversy, much to the
irritation of the man whose position should be untouchable as the man
whose goals won the 2002 final.
One more goal would take the Real Madrid striker ahead of Pele, whose 12
World Cup goals is a Brazilian record.
Three more would move the 29-year-old to the top of the overall
leaderboard ahead of German Gerd Muller, who notched 14.
Even President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has become embroiled in the
run-up to the Croatia game after he inquired of Brazil's coach Carlos
Parreira about Ronaldo's weight.
Ronaldo responded: "Just as he says I'm fat, everybody knows he drinks
too much," then said the allegations were simply false on both counts.
Lula swiftly sent a fax "reaffirming his affection for the player".
According to Parreira, Ronaldo's body has changed and he "is not the
youngster he was in 1994".
In terms of his club performances following another injury-ravaged
season he is not the player he was either – but then again they said
that four years ago before he scored eight goals to lead his country to
"I only want respect," said Ronaldo – and a goal against Croatia would
doubtless mean all would be well with his world again, blisters or no
Another man who cannot be overlooked in a side bursting with creativity
is world player of the year Ronaldinho. The 26-year-old has turned
football into the highest art with his showings this season which
carried Barcelona to the Champions League title.
Add AC Milan's Kaka and Inter Milan hotshot Adriano and up front Brazil
look unstoppable. Brazil is alone in appearing in every World Cup and
after wins in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, as well as runner-up
finishes in 1950 and 1998, its pedigree is unmatched, making it 9-4
The favourite tag is not won worn lightly, however. "It is always the
same. Brazil will win it. Brazil are the favourites – the other teams
want to take the attention off themselves and the pressure," Kaka, only
a bit-part player in 2002, complained in a recent interview.
The Croatians will not arrive as lambs to the slaughter but they have
been battling a mysterious virus since arriving in Germany last week.
Doctors could not determine the cause of the infection which had
stricken stars including Darijo Simic, Ivica Olic, Bosko Balaban, Dado
Prso, Stjepan Tomas, Anthony Seric and Joseph Didulica.
As they sweat on their fitness, Asian champions Japan and Australia make
up the remainder of the group as the Brazilians set off to ignite the
event with their magic touch.