In search of the beautiful game

There was also whistling for Brazil’s performance, which lacked the sparkle that many expected. Setting the standards for soccer perfection has its drawbacks; people expect you to meet those standards. «History does not talk about the beautiful game. It talks about champions,» Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said after the match. «Why do we have to play beautiful football and winners don’t? We like the beautiful game but more than that we want to be champions.» The burden of living up to people’s expectations is most evident in the story of the team’s star striker Ronaldo. Included in the World Cup squad 12 years ago as a 17-year-old who did not make the starting lineup during that tournament, Ronaldo has since gone on to dominate Brazil’s appearances in the competition. In 1998, he led the South Americans to the final only to suffer a fit hours before the game against France, which resulted in him being rushed to the hospital. Ronaldo played in the final but seemed to sleepwalk through the 90 minutes as France took the title on home soil after winning 3-0. Following the game, French captain Zinedine Zidane could have run for president of France and won by a landslide. Ronaldo would have had trouble being voted president of his local samba school. Four years and a couple of career-threatening injuries later, Ronaldo was able to redeem himself as he became top scorer and Brazil lifted the trophy for a fifth time in Japan and South Korea. Yet, going into this tournament critics questioned Ronaldo again. His form was poor and he was overweight, they said. Even Brazilian President Lula publicly questioned the fitness and waist size of the striker. After a disappointing display in his first game, Ronaldo suffered dizziness and was taken to the hospital. It looked as if history was repeating itself. But this time Ronaldo came back stronger and scored twice in Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Japan in its final group game. In Tuesday’s game he opened the scoring in the fifth minute, breaking Ghana’s offside trap and swaying past the goalkeeper with the grace of a master samba dancer before rolling the ball into the empty net. It was an historic moment in world soccer as it made Ronaldo the all-time leading scorer at World Cup finals. On 15 goals, he had surpassed the record set in the 1970s by the German forward Gerd Muller, affectionately known as Der Bomber. Even the Germans stood to applaud the Brazilian’s achievement as the fans in yellow began to rhythmically chant his name. It summed up the beauty and ugliness of sport, emphasizing the thin line dividing a lasting icon from a disposable hero. So, Brazil moves on to the quarterfinal in Frankfurt on Saturday where they will face their nemesis from eight years ago, France. You can be sure that among the thousands of passionate Brazilians there will once again be countless foreigners descending on Germany’s financial capital in the hope that they can cash in their soccer dreams for a share in the «beautiful game.» Sport has a wonderful quality of seeming to be directed by fate at times. For Ronaldo, Saturday offers the hope of putting his demons behind him when he faces the team that he watched through bleary eyes eight years ago. Even in the language of soccer that the Brazilians speak so beautifully at times, unattractive words like revenge are still part of the vocabulary.

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