Paul Kelso

Brazil coach insists that off-colour and overweight Ronaldo will start against Australia

BERLIN: As the Brazilian hordes made their way from the Olympiastadion after Tuesday night's winning World Cup start, a band of Bahian drummers led the celebrations. Amid the bikini-clad dancers bobbed a life-size cut-out of Ronaldo, carried on the shoulders of a young supporter.

Fortunately for the young man's back, the cut-out dated from 2002 when the striker scored the two goals that won the title for Brazil. Four years on and you would not fancy carrying a life-size picture of Big Ron, let alone the real thing.

Former talisman

Yet, that was precisely what his teammates looked to be doing as their former talisman turned in his most ineffective and laboured performance in a Brazil shirt since the disastrous 1998 World Cup final.

It left many in the ground, including the notoriously judgmental Brazilian media, openly asking whether we had witnessed the beginning of the end for one of the game's greatest strikers.

The 1998 nightmare

As doubts about Ronaldo's form and fitness grew before this tournament, both the player and coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had insisted that he is a man for the big moment.

Nervous exhaustion may have overtaken him amid the dark and still opaque events in 1998, but had he not banished the doubts in 2002, rising to the occasion and delivering Brazil's fifth World Cup? Perhaps, but it will require a similarly spectacular transformation if redemption is to follow.

Patently overweight and displaying a touch more redolent of Mansfield than the Maracana, he was a pale shadow of the man who once terrorised the world's best defences.

Most worrying for Parreira, who exercised mercy in cutting short the embarrassment after 69 minutes, was Ronaldo's apparent lack of interest.

It is said that World Cups are all about pacing yourself but at this rate Brazil's No. 9 will not be up to speed until August.

Where's the magic?

Often operating at walking pace, he was out of step with his celebrated colleagues in `the magical quartet' as they tried to weave their patterns. Three times in the first 20 minutes, his heavy touch brought to an end moves instigated by Kaka and Ronaldinho. Not once did he attempt anything as ambitious as a run into a channel, and where once he could be relied upon to break for the near post when the ball went wide, here he was to be found closer to the edge of the penalty area.

Sole attempt

His solitary attempt on goal came in the 56th minute when he blazed just over.

For all the doubters, Parreira publicly backed his player, insisting he would feature in the starting eleven in the next game on Sunday.

His faith is admirable and Kaka also pleaded for patience. "He said he is not at his ideal fitness so let's wait until he improves his performance and we will see the player we know and love. A little more movement from him would be ideal," Kaka said.

It was tempting to add that some would be a start.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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