On 12 July 1998, as football fans around the world counted down to the final of the FIFA World Cup, chaos and confusion reigned supreme in the Brazilian camp hours before kick-off. With three hours to go for their final against hosts France, the Selecao were awaiting word on the health of their star player and talisman, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima.
Il Fenomeno, who had come into the tournament on the back of a stunning season with Inter Milan where he had scored 47 goals, suffered a seizure soon after lunch. With doubts over his fitness to play in the final, coach Mario Zagallo decided to omit Ronaldo from the starting eleven, opting to start Edmundo as the striker with team officials stating that the buck-toothed striker had suffered an ankle injury in their semi-final win over the Netherlands.
As news of Ronaldo's omission from the final made shockwaves around the world, the Brazilian camp did a U-turn 40 minutes before kick-off and Zagallo reinstated Ronaldo in the lineup. However, Ronaldo failed to influence the match in any manner as his team, along with him, under-performed. France beat them 3-0 and lifted the World Cup at home.
In 2000, Ronaldo suffered a ruptured ligament in his knee which forced him on the sidelines for the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons with Inter Milan as well Brazil's World Cup qualification campaign. In his absence, Brazil managed to scrape through to the finals and few believed the side, coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, could challenge for the title. As for Ronaldo, the fact that he had managed to brush off any injury concerns was seen as a victory.
Ahead of the finals, Ronaldo arrived in East-Asia sporting a haircut which has since attained cult status among football fans for its sheer bizarreness. With only a triangular patch of hair left untouched, Ronaldo later revealed that the haircut was his ploy of distracting attention from his injury, and boy did it work!
Brazil cruised through the group stage undefeated as the strike force of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho scored seven of Brazil's eleven goals. After a goalless first-half in the Round of 16 clash against Belgium, Ronaldo and Rivaldo scored in the final 30 minutes and Brazil set up a quarter-final clash against England. Despite falling behind to a Michael Owens goal, Brazil emerged 2-1 victors with goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. In a tricky semi-final clash against Turkey, Ronaldo scored the only goal as Brazil joined Germany in the final.
If Brazil had the three Rs, then Germany had the legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who had only conceded once in the tournament before the final, to thwart any Brazilian attacks. However, on the world's biggest stage, Ronaldo showed what could have been four years ago in France.
In the first half alone, Ronaldo had three good chances to put Brazil ahead only for Kahn to stand tall. Ronaldo was a constant threat for the German defence with his pace and movement but Die Mannschaft held firm as the two sides were locked at 0-0 at halftime.
However, a rare error from Kahn, 22 minutes from time, gave Brazil the lead. And who else but Ronaldo who used his fiery pace to pounce on the loose ball after Kahn spilled Rivaldo's shot to slot the ball into the net. With the World Cup on the line, Germany went all-out attack in search of an equaliser, leaving them vulnerable to counter attacks.
79 minutes into the match, Brazil all but secured their fifth World Cup after Ronaldo combined with Rivaldo to finish a Brazil counter-attack and score his eighth goal of the campaign.
A teary-eyed Ronaldo spoke about his injury troubles after the match and his arduous journey as he recovered from a career-threatening injury to guide Selecao to a record fifth World Cup title.
"My happiness and my emotion are so great that it's difficult to understand. I've said before that my big victory was to play football again, to run again and to score goals again."
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Updated Date: May 20, 2018 00:00:19 IST