Ronaldo, who has been criticized
lately about his lack of fitness, scored twice to tie the record for
most World Cup goals in a career (14).
The spotlight was back on Ronaldo, and this
time he shined.
After a lackluster World Cup start, Ronaldo scored two goals Thursday
night to lead Brazil to a 4-1 victory against Japan that clinched first
place in Group F.
''I have complete knowledge of my possibilities, of my condition,''
Ronaldo said. ``I knew I arrived at a level below my teammates, and that
I would have to work really hard to reach them.''
Ronaldo admittedly arrived for the World Cup overweight and was heavily
criticized after sluggish performances in the early games.
The goals moved Ronaldo into a tie with Gerd Mueller of West Germany for
the most goals in World Cup history with 14. Ronaldo said he never had a
doubt he would regain his scoring touch.
On Thursday, Ronaldo finally appeared close to top form. He tied the
score at 1-1 with a header a minute into first-half injury time, moving
past Pelé as Brazil's all-time leading World Cup scorer. He was set up
by Real Madrid teammate Cicinho, who sent him the ball with a header
across the area.
Ronaldo scored his second goal in the 81st, with a right-footer from 20
yards after a set-up by defender Juan.
''Ronaldo is back,'' Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. ``We
believe he's special. We must have confidence in our football, and today
we played more like Brazilians. We kept the ball for longer periods.''
With its second-round berth already secured, Brazil fielded five reserve
players and got goals from two -- Juninho and Gilberto. But it was
Ronaldo who was the star in Brazil's record 10th straight World Cup win.
''I'm very happy with my performance, with the two goals and with
Brazil's victory,'' he said. ``Now it's time to rest and think about the
round of 16.''
Brazil will play Ghana on Tuesday in Dortmund.
Japan is headed home after finishing last in the group with one point,
failing to repeat its second-round appearance from when it co-hosted the
2002 Cup. The Japanese, coached by former Brazilian all-star Zico,
needed to defeat the five-time champions to have any chance to advance.
''I'd love to have a player like Ronaldo on my team,'' Zico said. ``He's
the type of player who can smell a goal and he's so dangerous when he
gets in front of the goal.''