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Nike denies forcing Ronaldo onto field

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Posted: Monday July 13, 1998 01:21 PM

  FIFA officials claim that Ronaldo was cleared by doctors to play before the game (AP)

ROME (AP) -- Nike on Monday denied putting pressure on Ronaldo or his coach to have the Brazilian star play in the World Cup final.

"With regard to rumors circulating about presumed pressures Nike put on the Brazilian national soccer team so that Ronaldo would play, Nike wants to emphasize that the report of such involvement is absolutely false," a statement said.

The statement was released by the Italian branch of Nike in response to a directive from company headquarters in the United States, Nike Italy spokesman Massimo Giunco said.

Confusion surrounded Ronaldo's status for Sunday night's final against France.

The two-time FIFA player of the year was not among the 11 starters initially picked by Brazil coach Mario Zagallo. But his name was reinstated to the starting team just before the match. Ronaldo was ineffective during the game as Brazil tumbled to a humiliating 3-0 defeat.

What is unclear is what happened between the initial lineup decision and the start of the game.

FIFA, the sport's governng body, said Ronaldo had gone to the hospital for X-rays on his left ankle, and doctors cleared him to play just before the game. Team doctor Lidio Toledo said Ronaldo felt dizzy after lunch, while press officer Nelson Borges said the player had vomited.

There were reports of locker room squabbles as to whether Ronaldo should be on the field.

"What is true is that last night's game was the most important moment of Ronaldo's career," the Nike Italy statement said. "To play the final of a World Cup is the dream of any player, Ronaldo included.

"Ronaldo and Zagallo decided together to crown this dream which the Brazilian player -- probably -- deserved to live. In all of this, Nike did not interfere in any way. And besides, why should it have?"

The 21-year-old striker, who plays his club soccer for Italy's Inter Milan, was one of the focal points of Nike's World Cup advertising campaign.

The sports shoe company has a 10-year sponsorship deal with the Brazilian team for a reported $200 million, and in May signed an 11-year deal with Inter Milan worth at least $125 million.

Brazil has derisively been called Team Nike, while FIFA has decried the influence sponsors hold on the sport.  

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