World Cup is crucial test for RonaldoPosted: Friday April 26, 2002 12:02 PM
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- What could a two-time FIFA Player of the Year possibly have left to prove? For Ronaldo, the list seems endless.
The "phenomenon" will face a crucial test at this summer's World Cup. Can his rebuilt knee take the punishment of the month-long tournament? Does he still have the quickness and the explosion of before? And can he succeed where he failed in 1998, to lead Brazil to a fifth World Cup crown?
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is betting that the answer to all three is "yes." And he's willing to wager a spot on Brazil's Cup squad, passing over talented strikers like Romario, Jardel, Amoroso, Elber and others who are active, healthy and scoring goals in bunches.
It's quite a gamble. Ronaldo is still trying to return to action after two operations for a torn right knee ligament that kept him idle for two years. His comeback was repeatedly delayed by other injuries, and now time is running short.
In his first appearance in Brazil's No. 9 jersey since 1999, Ronaldo played 45 minutes in a 1-0 win over Yugoslavia on March 27. He showed enough to warrant another call, but he's a long way from World Cup form.
"The truth is (Scolari) didn't call up Ronaldo, he called up a perspective of Ronaldo," wrote columnist Luiz Fernando Verissimo in the Rio daily O Globo. "This must be the first time in history they call up a convalescent."
Ronaldo says confidence is not a problem. He won't back off from a clash with an opposing defender -- he just needs playing time to get his game back.
"The risk that I suffer an injury during the Cup is the same as for any player," Ronaldo said. "That's what my doctors told me and I believe it."
It may seem strange to be starting over at 25, but little in Ronaldo's life has been ordinary.
He was barely 16 when he burst on to the national soccer stage with Brazil's Cruzeiro club, scoring goals at a faster pace than the young Pele. That earned him a spot on Brazil's 1994 World Cup champion team, although he didn't see playing time.
Success followed him to European teams PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Internazionale. There were fantastically rich promotion contracts, a romance with Brazilian actress Suzana Werner and back-to-back awards as FIFA Player of the Year.
At the 1998 Cup, there was no bigger name than Ronaldo as Brazil reached the final against host France. But a mysterious ailment overcame him on game day --teammates said he went into convulsions in his hotel room. Although he played, Ronaldo was a shadow of himself as Brazil was upset 3-0.
Later, Ronaldo revealed that he was dogged through the Cup by chronic knee pains, and soon after leading Brazil to the Copa America title in 1999 he stopped for surgery. His comeback in 2000 lasted just seven minutes before he fell to the turf, untouched by any opponent, clutching his right knee in agony. The ligament had snapped.
Another operation, a longer convalescence. Today, more mature, with a two-year-old son from Brazilian Milene Domingues, Ronaldo is ready to return.
"I am persistent and pursue my goals, and my goal is to play in the World Cup," he said recently.
Besides, he has scores to settle.
"Brazilians will never forget the '98 Cup until we win another one," he said.