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   June 8, 2002 | 1025 IST



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Ronaldo on mission, Italy favourites

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Brazil's Ronaldo, whose life for the past four years has been a chronicle of injuries, operations and recuperation, has a deceptively simple mission at this year's World Cup -- to score goals in abundance.

The twice World Player of the Year takes to the field in search of more goals against debutants China in the South Korean city of Sogwipo on Saturday after opening his account in Brazil's 2-1 win over Turkey in their first game.

"I was happy with my performance against Turkey but I can improve a lot," said Ronaldo, who suffered a fit before the final in France in 1998 and was a forlorn, peripheral figure as Brazil went down 3-0.

"I know I'm on the right path. This was my first goal and it's just the beginning."

Ronaldo and Rivaldo Italy, new favourites after England's 1-0 victory over Argentina on Friday, play an ageing Croatia in the Japanese city of Ibaraki. Croatia finished third in France in 1998 but lost their opener this time 1-0 to Mexico.

In game three of the day, South Africa, who battled to a 2-2 draw against Paraguay in their opener, take on Slovenia in Taegu in South Korea. Slovenia lost their first game 3-1 to Spain.

Off the pitch, world soccer's governing body FIFA, paid tribute to the behaviour of the fans who watched England beat Argentina 1-0 in Sapporo, where reports of England hooligans had given the Japanese hosts jitters about crowd violence.

"There were no incidents whatsoever before, during or after the match," FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said on Saturday.

"From a security point of view, it was the proof that football is in control and that people come to football matches to watch football and not for other purposes," he said.

Cooper quoted FIFA president Sepp Blatter as saying that ticketing problems, which resulted in conspicuously empty seats at some stadiums during the first week of the tournament, had been brought under control -- with telephone sales the solution.

"Telephones were jammed with two million calls in three minutes," he said of the latest batch of tickets to go on sale.


World and European champions France, with playmaker Zinedine Zidane sidelined by a thigh injury, have made an unconvincing start to the tournament.

Beaten 1-0 by first-timers Senegal in their opener, they scraped a 0-0 draw against Uruguay but their team doctor, quoted by the Parisien newspaper Web site on Friday, said Zidane would be back for their final game against Denmark on Tuesday.

Ronaldo, who has hardly played since the 1998 tournament in France, has had his knees reconstructed, has fought his way back to full fitness and is hungry for further goals.

Italy have been installed as the new favourites to win the Cup for the fourth time after France failed to score in either of their first two matches and Argentina's loss to England.

Four times champions Brazil are second favourites.

"We will be more relaxed for this game and we will play better," said Ronaldo. "It's a chance to boost our morale, gain in confidence and score goals."

China, defeated 2-0 by Costa Rica in their World Cup debut, should not pose too many problems for the Brazilians. They are also likely to take the field without two of their top players, Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai, who were injured in Tuesday's match.

Although Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has strengthened his defence by replacing Edmilson with Anderson Polga, the Brazilians missed the authority of their captain Emerson against Turkey. Emerson, who dislocated his shoulder in a freak training accident, will take no further part in the Cup.


Ronaldo, who showed exciting glimpses of his power and skill against Turkey, has an extra incentive to succeed in the Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

Four years ago, he was omitted from the team sheet before the final against France in Paris after suffering the fit. In the end he did take the field but was a shadow of his former self, with only one real shot on goal.

In this year's tournament, the impressive Italians cruised past Ecuador 2-0 in their opening match.

The Italian defence, which has conceded only 10 goals in their last 20 World Cup finals games, is as impressive as ever but this time they also boast a potent attack.

Christian Vieri scored both Italy's goals in the opening match and has now scored seven in six World Cup finals matches.

For Saturday's match coach Giovanni Trapattoni has selected a potent strike force of Vieri, Francesco Totti and Filippo Inzaghi.

"We have forwards that all the world envy and we have to exploit that opportunity to create problems for Croatia," he said.

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