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   June 20, 2002 | 1300 IST


Umit Davala
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Persistence pays off for Rivaldo

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It has taken nine years of extraordinary persistence for Brazil's Rivaldo to finally be recognised at international level.

A lesser man may have thrown in the towel years ago but Rivaldo, who survived grinding poverty during his childhood in Recife, has battled on bravely amid often vicious criticism and allegations that he saves his best for his club Barcelona.

The gifted forward is now reaping the rewards. Four goals, including a brilliant effort in Monday's World Cup second round match against Belgium, and four excellent performances have made him one of the players of the tournament.

The former World Player of the Year attributes his hard-earned success to the confidence placed in him by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Scolari's predecessors largely failed to find Rivaldo a role in which he could shine as he always has for Barcelona. One of them, Emerson Leao, lost patience and dropped him for a World Cup qualifier at home to Peru in which Brazil were held to a 1-1 draw.

"He (Scolari) told me that he had a lot of confidence in me, in spite of everything," Rivaldo said on Wednesday.

"People were criticising me, saying I shouldn't be in the team but... he told me that my place was guaranteed in the Brazil team and to not worry about the criticism I was getting in Brazil.

"He said the first question he was asked when he arrived was about Rivaldo, about why Rivaldo played well for his club but not the national team."


"But he said I would have to play 10 bad games before he dropped me from the team. He gave me confidence and it's great to have your coach's confidence."

Scolari was asked what he had done to Rivaldo.

"Nothing," he said. "I just told him the difficulties I went through as a coach and as a player, about how I confronted these difficulties."

It is all very different from just 18 months ago when Rivaldo threatened to end his international career after being booed and heckled by the crowd in Sao Paulo during a World Cup qualifier against Colombia.

"The supporters went over the top. They treated me really badly. I'm going to rethink my future in the national team," he said at the time.

"I've always been a guy who tries hard, who gives his all and this is not being recognised. Maybe the moment has arrived for me to stop and think about all this before choosing my future.

"I don't remember being so miserable at the end of a game."

Rivaldo reconsidered and ploughed on, but his future was again in doubt on the eve of the World Cup because of a knee injury which forced him to miss the end of the Spanish season.

Barcelona's doctor allowed Rivaldo to join Brazil but expressed doubts about whether he would last the tournament.


In fact, Rivaldo's international career had had high points before the World Cup. But, possibly because he prefers to keep himself to himself, he has never enjoyed the same plaudits as players such as Ronaldo and Romario.

Rivaldo scored on his international debut against Mexico in 1993 and his performance at the 1998 World Cup was creditable, to say the least, as he scored four times in seven games.

Instead of wallowing in praise, though, Rivaldo had to endure questions about whether he was trying to outshine Ronaldo.

At that time, the media still treated Rivaldo with distrust after an unfortunate episode at the 1996 Olympics.

Brought in to the under-23 team as one of the three permitted over-age players, Rivaldo had a nightmare game in the semi-final against Nigeria and was made a scapegoat for Brazil's 4-3 golden goal defeat.

It was a year before he wore the Brazil shirt again.

After the 1998 World Cup in France, Rivaldo went to what, for most players, would be considered more success. He won the 1999 Copa America and was joint top-scorer with five goals.


Yet, once again, he received more criticism than plaudits and was again accused of being greedy.

"I'll try and pass the ball more quickly," he said. "But I've got where I am today by playing this way."

This was followed by the qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, in which Rivaldo scored eight goals in 18 games, making him Brazil's joint top-scorer with Romario.

But he continued to find himself under fire.

Brazilians saw television footage of him scoring spectacular goals for Barcelona and wondered how he could he shine in the Champions League, yet struggle to perform against in Asuncion against modest Paraguay.

There were allegations that he was only interested in the money and, even though he commuted on a monthly basis to South America to play for Brazil, that he no longer loved his country.

Many felt he should not even be included in the squad for South Korea and Japan.

Rivaldo has provided the perfect reply but, in typical style, he refuses to snipe back at his detractors.

"I think I'm doing my job well," he said on Wednesday. "He (Scolari) is happy with me, for my performances so far, for the confidence I have shown in the games, for my recovery and for the effort I made to be in the World Cup.

"I had a lot of pain in the knee, I worked very hard, helped by the Brazil team doctor, and I recovered so I could be in this World Cup. Fortunately, things are working out well for me and the Brazil team."

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