Two serious knee injuries had left him a 50 per cent chance of ever playing again. He had hardly kicked a ball for two years. Brazil had scraped through qualification and been humiliated by Honduras at the Copa America. They had no chance. Especially without him. He wasn’t even supposed to be there.
|VIEW FROM BRAZIL
|By Luiz Alberto Moura | Goal Brazil
Ronaldo was the top scorer in the 2002 World Cup with eight goals and was the decisive factor in a number of games for Brazil.
But no Brazilian fan will ever forget his grand finale. Against Germany and Oliver Kahn, the best player of 2002 World Cup, Ronaldo delivered his most outstanding performance and proved himself in a World Cup final. He scored twice and with the goals, wrote his name into football history.
“He was the fastest thing I’ve ever seen running with the ball,” said his Barcelona coach Bobby Robson. “Had he managed to stay free of injury, he had every chance of becoming the best footballer ever.”
He’d scored 45 goals in 48 games for Robson in his one season with Barca following a world-record transfer from PSV. He was simply unstoppable in La Liga. He was so good, there were times it simply didn’t seem fair that he was even allowed to play.
He scored four goals at World Cup '98 and was named player of the tournament by Fifa. Had he not suffered a fit the night before the final against France, Brazil could well have been seeking their seventh world title this year.
Ronaldo joined Inter in the summer of 1997 for another world-record fee, but after productive first two opening seasons his world come crashing down in November 1999, when, running at a group of petrified Lecce defenders, his right knee buckled and he hit the turf. A knee operation and six months on the sidelines followed before his return in April 2000 as a substitute against Lazio. His evening would last just seven minutes as his knee exploded once again. There were genuine concerns his career was over.
But Ronaldo doesn’t do giving up. He managed just a handful of games for the next two years before Brazil convinced Inter officials to let him work with their own medical staff in the run-up to Korea/Japan. Brazil have always been at the forefront of sports medicine and succeeded in what many thought impossible - he was ready.
The injuries had cost him his remarkable pace but Ronaldo adapted to his new limitations, adopted a more ruthless attitude in front of goal and became adept inside the confines of the penalty area. All eight of his goals in World Cup 2002 came from inside the box.
His first against Germany arrived from close range as he followed up Rivaldo’s shot after having won the ball back himself. His second was beautifully swept inside the post with the outside of his foot from just inside the box after Rivaldo had dummied Kleberson’s low pass.
"Ronaldo copied the classic journey of the mythological local hero who descends into hell then comes back to change history,” wrote Globo’s Luis Fernando Verissimo of the man they call o fenomeno.
Take a look at One Stadium - the football destination for official Fifa World Cup partner Sony - which hosts archive footage from every modern finals.