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The Rediff Special/Mike Collett
Nightmare of '98 returns to haunt Ronaldo
June 14, 2006
In a performance eerily reminiscent of his ghostly display in the 1998 World Cup final, Ronaldo appeared to be in a nightmarish world of his own again on Tuesday.
Slow, lumbering, unable to control the easiest of passes and playing as if he vaguely remembered the game although was not absolutely certain what it was all about, Ronaldo was the worst player in Brazil's team that opened their World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over Croatia at the Olympiastadion.
Eight years ago, after being taken ill in the night before the World Cup final against France in circumstances that have never been fully explained, Ronaldo gave a detached performance at the Stade de France in Paris as France won the World Cup for the first time by beating Brazil 3-0.
Coincidentally that was the last time France scored a goal or won a game in the World Cup finals - and the last time Brazil failed to win one.
Earlier on Tuesday, France drew 0-0 with Switzerland - their fourth successive game in the finals since then without a win or goal - while Brazil's victory over Croatia set a record.
After winning all seven games to lift the World Cup for the fifth time in 2002 they have become the first team to win eight successive matches in the finals.
On Tuesday night, Brazil opened the defence of their crown with another victory but did so with little assistance from Ronaldo who burst into life only once in the 69 minutes he was on the pitch - unleashing a blistering 20-metre drive that sailed just over Croatia's crossbar.
He then appeared to retreat into his shell again and was hauled off by coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to the jeers of the Brazilian fans who welcomed Robinho in his place.
Ronaldo has come to Germany accused of being overweight and out of touch. Before the end of the season he said he no longer had the support of the fans at Real Madrid and his private life is in turmoil.
But he also arrives having scored 12 goals in the World Cup and needs only three more to overtake Gerd Muller's all-time record of 14.
Before the tournament started he said: "I know I am not in the greatest form but I will prepare myself and shut up the critics.
"The World Cup is the greatest motivation for any player. My personal hurricane will end."
The worry for Ronaldo is, unlike four years ago, Brazil can probably win the World Cup without him.
Ronaldinho is now their best player, their inspiration and, officially, the best player in the world.
Scorer Kaka and Adriano had excellent games in midfield, captain Cafu was inspirational as ever, Juan and Lucio outstanding at the back.
Ronaldo has had bad games before, but this was his 100th appearance for Brazil -- not all of them in full internationals -- and he has not had too many worse ones than this.
Apart, of course, from the 1998 World Cup final in Paris.
He bounced back from that one but whether he can spark back to life after Tuesday's performance will be one of the talking points all over the world before Brazil meet Australia in their next match on Sunday.More Specials