Much to prove
World Cup is crucial test for RivaldoPosted: Friday April 26, 2002 12:02 PM
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- With each disconcerting dribble, bicycle kick or bit of ball-handling wizardry from the highlight reels, Barcelona star Rivaldo draws oohs of admiration from Brazilians back home.
The next remark usually is: "Why doesn't he play like that for Brazil?"
Few players evoke such mixed feelings among Brazilians as Rivaldo. The respect for his enormous talent is tempered by frustration at his failure to perform at a consistently high level on the national team. Many dismiss him as a "club player" -- suitable for Barcelona but not to wear Brazil's yellow jersey.
Rivaldo's defenders say Brazil can't turn its back on the runaway choice for FIFA Player of the Year in 1999. His critics recall the player was all but run off the national team after the debacle of the 1996 Olympics.
"When Rivaldo is on, he's unbeatable," said coach Mario Zagallo, who coached him in the Olympics and the 1998 World Cup.
Rivaldo seems to defy categories. He's not quite a midfielder, nor exactly a striker. His lanky forward's frame belies the delicate footwork and fine ball control of a midfield artist. Compared to the stocky prototype of his position -- Pele, Zico, Maradona and others -- Rivaldo is an anomaly.
Fortunately, among his admirers is coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
"I think he's spectacular," Scolari said when he took over the team last year. "Only if Rivaldo goes 10 games without doing anything, then I will think about his situation."
Born 29 years ago in Brazil's arid Northeast, Rivaldo moved to the southeastern metropolis of Sao Paulo and was quickly signed by Corinthians, one of Brazil's biggest clubs. He later switched to Palmeiras, where he led the team to its first national crown in 20 years and was chosen for the Brazilian national squad.
His personal calvary began at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Expectations were high -- Zagallo left off Romario and other players from the 1994 Cup champions in favor of Rivaldo, whom he called "the best player in Brazil."
But Rivaldo hardly looked it in the semifinals against Nigeria. Putting his head down and charging upfield, he lost the ball at midfield and sparked a counterattack that led to Nigeria's win in overtime. Brazil returned home in disgrace, and Rivaldo was exiled from the national squad.
Still, his play for Barcelona was too good to ignore, and Rivaldo eventually came back. He was a standout at the '98 World Cup in France and is all but assured a starting spot in South Korea.
Exactly where, not even Scolari knows.
In the midfield, Rivaldo has been given the duties of playmaker, although he doesn't have the vision or the passing skills for the job. When the team bogs down, Rivaldo takes the blame.
Scolari hopes to ease the burden on his star by starting him alongside versatile forward-midfielder Ronaldinho, who can take over some of the playmaking chores and free Rivaldo to be Rivaldo.
"He has to feel free to make mistakes, know that he will still have the same confidence from me," Scolari said.
Tostao, a star of Brazil's 1970 World Cup champions, says Rivaldo is simply the player with the greatest individual capacity to decide a game. Coaches shouldn't ask him to be a playmaker or passer or defender, says Tostao -- just to win games.