The World Cup Calendar, June 30th. The Ronaldo Show

They say that there is no “I” in team. Well, the World Cup final between Germany and Brazil in 2002 was a one man show. Years before the name Ronaldo became synonymous with the outstanding Portugal forward, there was a decent Brazilian striker who was known as Ronaldo. For the best part of a decade, Ronaldo was one of the greatest,
if not the greatest player in the world. In the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, Ronaldo played an absolute blinder. He scored two goals and quite frankly could have had at least three more! Settle in folks, and let’s enjoy this good ol’ fashioned Ronaldo love-in.

18 minutes in and Ronaldo had his first clear-cut chance of the day. Ronaldo dummied the ball, allowing Ronaldinho to receive the pass. Ronaldinho faked a shot and then played a wonderful through ball to Ronaldo. The fake shot caught out Carsten Ramelow and young Christoph Metzelder, allowing Ronaldo to collect the pass with relative ease. Ronaldo struck the ball with the outside of his left foot. The ball coasted wide, but it was an early warning sign to Germany. Ronaldinho and Ronaldo had been developing an almost telepathic connection that had the potential to be punishing to the German defence.

Ten minutes later and Brazil’s number 10 set up Brazil’s number 9. Ronaldinho deftly passed the ball over Germany’s defence to Ronaldo. Ronaldo controlled the ball perfectly, stabbing his shot towards goal. Oliver Kahn was a giant in goal, rushing out to block the shot, then rapidly throwing himself over the ball to shield the rebound from Ronaldo.

Germany were enjoying more possession, but Brazil were the only team that were creating clear-cut chances. Atletico Paranaense midfielder Kleberson took advantage of some timid German defending with a long through ball. No defender had the confidence to step out of position to stop the ball, and consequently, Kleberson was allowed the time to latch on to it, outpacing Metzelder and getting a shot off. Once again, the ball rolled wide of the post, but Brazil were getting closer and closer.

Kleberson went even closer on 45 minutes. Ronaldinho passed to Ronaldo, who turned and played a quick pass to Kleberson. Kleberson hit a glorious shot that raised over the defence and arced towards goal. The ball smacked off the crossbar and away to safety.

Ronaldo had his third gilt-edged chance in added time. Ronaldinho headed the ball back to Roberto Carlos, with the full back firing a cross low into the box. Ronaldo was on the receiving end of that cross. His touch bounced off Metzelder and fell perfectly for the Brazilian, who turned and unleashed a powerful shot at goal. Once again, Oliver Kahn threw himself at the ball, saving his team from conceding on the brink of halftime. Germany were starting to look like they were on the ropes, therefore the referee’s halftime whistle was a god send.

Germany started the second half brightly, invigorated by their fifteen-minute break. They won a corner less than a minute into the second half. The ball was flighted in and scandalously, Jens Jeremies was totally unmarked in the middle. He turned his body in mid-air to headed the ball towards goal. Lyon centre back Edmilson blocked the ball, sticking his leg out in the nick of time to push it away from goal.

A couple minutes later and Die Mannschaft won a free kick some 35 yards from goal. Rather than crossing into the box, centre forward Oliver Neuville opted to test his luck, unleashing a thunderous shot. The ball sailed over the ball, dipping back down and hitting the post, beating Marcos in the Brazilian goal. Luckily for Brazil, the ball bounced off the post and away to safety.

Brazil got their first of the day with 67 minutes played. It was a goal stooped in controversy. Ronaldo took in a pass 25 yards from goal and appeared to have his feet taken from under him by Thomas Linke. It looked to be a clear foul, yet the referee waved play on. Rather than getting wound up like the modern day Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima simply got on with his job, determined to avenge this injustice.

Ronaldo got up quickly and chased down the ball, now in possession by the Germans. He bullied the defender, stealing the ball, defying gravity by staying on his feet and then flicking a pass to his strike partner, Rivaldo. Rivaldo took a shot from distance which should have been easily stopped by Kahn. Throughout the tournament, goalkeepers had complained about the state of the ball, due to its light, floaty nature. The curse of the ball struck again, and Kahn spilled the ball in front of him. Ronaldo pounced on the loose ball, easily tucking the ball home to put Brazil ahead in the World Cup final. Kahn had had a wonderful game so far, and it was a cruel blow to give away a goal so easily. This was typical Ronaldo. Powerfully bullish to win the ball, a delicate touch to pass the ball and perfect timing to be in the right area to finish the chance.

Ronaldo’s first goal was laughably simple, his second was a cultured finish from distance. With ten minutes to go, Kleberson dribbled from beyond the halfway line with a wealth of passing options ahead of him. He eventually hit a lot cross into the box. The ball went to Rivaldo, who stepped over the ball, letting it run through to Ronaldo. This outfoxed the defence and gifted Ronaldo a split second advantage to pick his spot. Substitute Gerald Asamoah did his best to tackle the Brazilian, but to no avail. Ronaldo stroked the ball past Oliver Kahn and into the bottom corner, as perfect a finish as one could ever hope to see.

Ronaldo sprinted off in celebration, arms spread wide, waggling a finger with the confidence of a man who knew that he had just won his team their fifth World Cup. This celebration was iconic. It was pleasing to see Ronaldo back to his best, four years after his bizarre pre-final escapades in 1998 (stay tuned on July 12th to read more about that game). There were demons in Ronaldo that he had truly exorcised in this final.

Germany mustered a number of chances in the closing minutes but Brazil held tight in defence. The final whistle blew and the Brazilians were in ecstasy. Germany had been ruthlessly efficient in the tournament, conceding only once during their route to the final, courtesy of a 92nd minute Robbie Keane goal. Brazil had been laxer at the back, yet their stylish and exciting play won the hearts of the world during the summer of 2002. The World Cup in Korea-Japan was like no other, it had great games, an amazing atmosphere and copious controversies. It was memorable, though, and that, to me, is the hallmark of a great World Cup. Right back Cafu, being the first man to play in three consecutive World Cup finals, was given the honour of lifting the trophy as captain of his country. To me, Cafu grinning from ear to ear with the trophy raised above his head is THE World Cup photograph, it’s iconic. When I think of winning the World Cup, this image of Cafu holding the trophy aloft is what springs to mind, a great guy, a great player, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I bloody love the World Cup!

Tomorrow’s game: July 1st. England v Portugal. 2006.