Nightmare of '98 returns to haunt Ronaldo?
In a performance eerily reminiscent of his
ghostly display in the 1998 World Cup final, Ronaldo appeared to be in a
nightmarish world of his own again on Tuesday.
Slow, lumbering, unable to control the easiest of passes and playing as
if he vaguely remembered the game although was not absolutely certain
what it was all about, Ronaldo was the worst player in Brazil's team
that opened their World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Croatia at the
Eight years ago, after being taken ill in the night before the World Cup
final against France in circumstances that have never been fully
explained, Ronaldo gave a detached performance at the Stade de France in
Paris as France won the World Cup for the first time by beating Brazil
Coincidentally that was the last time France scored a goal or won a game
in the World Cup finals -- and the last time Brazil failed to win one.
Earlier on Tuesday, France drew 0-0 with Switzerland -- their fourth
successive game in the finals since then without a win or goal -- while
Brazil's victory over Croatia set a record.
After winning all seven games to lift the World Cup for the fifth time
in 2002 they have become the first team to win eight successive matches
in the finals.
Ronaldo played a big part in that success four years ago by finishing as
the tournament's top scorer with eight goals including both in the 2-0
win over Germany in the World Cup final.
On Tuesday night, Brazil opened the defence of their crown with another
victory but did so with little assistance from Ronaldo who burst into
life only once in the 69 minutes he was on the pitch -- unleashing a
blistering 20-metre drive that sailed just over Croatia's crossbar.
He then appeared to retreat into his shell again and was hauled off by
coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to the jeers of the Brazilian fans who
welcomed Robinho in his place.
Ronaldo has come to Germany accused of being overweight and out of touch.
Before the end of the season he said he no longer had the support of the
fans at Real Madrid and his private life is in turmoil.
But he also arrives having scored 12 goals in the World Cup and needs
only three more to overtake Gerd Muller's all-time record of 14.
Before the tournament started he said: "I know I am not in the greatest
form but I will prepare myself and shut up the critics.
"The World Cup is the greatest motivation for any player. My personal
hurricane will end."
The worry for Ronaldo is, unlike four years ago, Brazil can probably win
the World Cup without him.
Ronaldinho is now their best player, their inspiration and, officially,
the best player in the world.
Scorer Kaka and Adriano had excellent games in midfield, captain Cafu
was inspirational as ever, Juan and Lucio outstanding at the back.
Ronaldo has had bad games before, but this was his 100th appearance for
Brazil -- not all of them in full internationals -- and he has not had
too many worse ones than this.
Apart, of course, from the 1998 World Cup final in Paris.
He bounced back from that one but whether he can spark back to life
after Tuesday's performance will be one of the talking points all over
the world before Brazil meet Australia in their next match on Sunday.