No.7: Ronaldo Gets His Redemption (Japan & South Korea, 2002)
The World Cup has peculiar patent for impinging both delight and despair on a host of the games most iconic figures.
Men that like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane have all endured a combination of heartache and glory in this tournament. But the contrast between the two is perhaps not as significant as it was for Brazilian forward Ronaldo in the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.
In 1998, Ronaldo really made his impression on the World stage. He showcased blistering speed, phenomenal power, typically Brazilian technical ability and an ice cool head in front of goal. In many respects, he was the first of the modern day strikers, in that he had absolutely everything in his armory.
But his tournament would end on a sour note in 1998. Having suffered a convulsive fit the night before the final against France, he played anyway when in reality, he probably shouldn’t have. Ronaldo was nowhere near his best and Brazil lost the final 3-0.
Four years later, he had another chance though. A little maturer this time round, perhaps not as raw as in 1998, but Ronaldo was still a poacher extraordinaire. And upon inception of the 2002 tournament in Japan & South Korea, it was apparent that he was in fine fettle.
Sporting a rather peculiar haircut, Ronaldo netted in all three of Brazil’s group games, helping the Selecao to 11 goals from their trio of contests. In the knockout stages, Brazil overcame Belgium, England and then Turkey on their route to the final; their No.9 netted in both the former and the latter.
That set up a chance for Ronaldo to snatch World Cup redemption at the first time of asking. They’d meet a Germany side in the final who would be without their suspended standout player in Michael Ballack, making the Selecao the overwhelming favorites to go on and win their fifth world title.
Despite his mercurial goalscoring form throughout the rest of the tournament, Ronaldo began the final poorly. He missed a trio of excellent chances in the first half, and the game was tied 0-0 going into half-time.
But after the break, his goalscoring instincts would come to the fore:
What happened next?
Naturally, Ronaldo was a hero and after making such a vital contribution in the final, he cemented his legacy as one of the game’s all-time great centre-forwards. On the back of a tournament in which he scored in all but one of his teams games, he earned a €48 million move to Real Madrid.