Ronaldo: The mystery of the 1998 World Cup final, and why Brazil’s star striker barely turned up

Those who have been plagued by these strange events will never forget the deadline: Paris, July 12, 1998, a match in four years – the FIFA World Cup Final.

Historians will record the match as a 3-0 victory for Zinedine Zidane and France, a result that sparked emotional festive scenes on the Champs-Elysées for the tournament host nation.

It was the only World Cup final that Brazil lost between 1994 and 2002, but there was so much more to the story, and much of the excitement was going on before a ball even hit. been kicked.

Perhaps the drama of the moment is best summed up by famed BBC match commentator John Motson, who has covered 10 World Cup tournaments in his broadcast career.

“The team sheets were handed over by the commissioners as usual; lo and behold, Ronaldo’s name was not there and everyone watching their document had the same reaction,” Motson told CNN Sport. .

“There were people who stood up and waved and asked what was going on? We sat there in absolute ferment for quite a long time.”

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Ronaldo was one of the biggest stars in the world game, the man that Brazilian fans expected to lead them to a fifth world title. The idea that he would not play was simply unthinkable.

For the background, try to imagine Argentina in the World Cup final and Lionel Messi abandoned from the team, without prior indication of a problem or injury.

It was the scale of the bomb that landed on the Stade de France this summer evening, 22 years ago. As these events unfolded to a global television audience of hundreds of millions of fans, no one seemed to have a clue what was going on.

“My reporter colleague, Ray Stubbs, saw Pelé sitting in the comment box,” says Motson. “He rushed over and asked her what it was. Pelé just spread his hands and said he didn’t know anything.”

Motson colorfully describes a state of total confusion which lasted for what appeared to be “half an hour” and the handing over of a modified team sheet did little.

In this alternative formation, Ronaldo was going to play the number nine of Brazil. But without further explanation, no one could say for sure if Ronaldo would really play until the referee whistled and he could be seen standing in the middle of the field.

Ronaldo had a brilliant club career, playing for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
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In these uncertain times, Brazilian, French and football writers from all over the world were desperately trying to make sense of it all. Was the first team sheet an error? A typo? Was it play?

Were the Brazilians trying to throw the French team out of their game? In the stadium, Motson’s colleague, former English striker Gary Lineker, described it as “the biggest liquidation in the history of World Cup football”.

For anyone who knew the format of a grand occasion like this, there were other clues that something had gone wrong for Brazil. Motson says his permanent memory of the event was the absence of their players on the field for a warm-up.

“I still remember it because it was very unusual for a team not to exercise. There were obviously a lot of things going on in the Brazilian locker room, which we had not left.”

It would be an understatement. What happened next was that the Brazilian players, who should have prepared for the biggest game of their career, were desperately worried about their friend and teammate talismanique.

Goalkeeper Dida, who was part of the Brazilian team and won the trophy with Ronaldo four years later, told CNN that when he arrived for the pre-game dinner, the generally cheerful atmosphere of the team room had evaporated.

“I could see that everyone had a strange look on their face, in total silence, very unusual for the Brazilians in the finals. Someone said ‘Ronaldo is not well, he went to the hospital. ‘”

It was not until several years later that Ronaldo admitted that he had experienced seizures in his bedroom and that he was unconscious for several minutes. His roommate Roberto Carlos called the team doctor, setting in motion a series of events that could rival anything that happened on the field later that night.

Ronaldo of Brazil with his back to the camera during the match against France at the Tournoi de France in Lyon, France. The match was 1-1. Mandatory credit: Shaun Botterill / Allsport
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Ronaldo told the BBC in 2014 that he spent three hours in the hospital, doing “everything you can imagine.” There were tests, there were drugs, but ultimately, there was no conclusion. He said, “It was like the convulsions never happened.”

“No one yet knows why and how it happened,” said Dida. “When I went to the stadium, he was still in the hospital. We were all so worried and sad about him; we didn’t know what was going on.”

Brazilians made their way to the match without any music on the team bus, a vivid indication of their concern

“When he arrived saying he wanted to play, there was an explosion of happiness, a little hope; we all knew that Ronaldo could do anything in a match,” added Dida.

Ronaldo was the kind of megastar player that coach Mário Zagallo could hardly say no to. His replacement, Edmundo, was sent off to the bench, but the game plan that had been hastily reorganized in the previous hours was abandoned without further time to rethink

It may be no coincidence that France’s first two goals came from Zidane with set kicks, exploiting the shortcomings of Brazil’s disorganized defense.

Graffiti of Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo, painted by Brazilian street artist Paulo Consentino for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
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Once the game started, it quickly became clear that Ronaldo was not shooting on all cylinders; as the game moved away from the defending champions, the 21-year-old was the shadow of the player who had already won two FIFA player of the year awards and had scored four times on the way to the final.

“He went through the center forward. But he certainly had no impact on the game,” said Motson. “He just had a very, very average game, just like the Brazilian team.”

The veteran commentator believes that the events in Paris are the most extraordinary of his career and the intrigue continued long after this night, one of the many conspiracy theories suggesting that the new sponsor of the team, Nike, had pressured Zagallo to play Ronaldo. The case even resulted in a subsequent government hearing, but there was never any evidence to support such an assertion.

Motson also called the final at Yokohama four years later, recounting Ronaldo’s most notable postscript, who recovered from multiple knee injuries to score six times and twice more in the 2002 final against the Germany.

This match inevitably brought back memories of Paris and Ronaldo himself, very painful.

Ronaldo kicks the ball to score the first goal against Turkey during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Japan semifinal match June 26, 2002 in Saitama, Japan.
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Ronaldo said that after lunch on the day of the final, he didn’t want to sleep, just in case. “I was very afraid that it would happen again,” he told the BBC in 2014.

His salvation was Dida, who this time was his roommate. The goalkeeper’s recipe for success? Lots of discussions and a golf course in the team hotel.

“He said,” Hey, I’m afraid of sleeping because I don’t want the same thing to happen. “I said don’t worry, calm down, because this time you’re not with Roberto Carlos!” Dida told CNN, who stayed with Ronaldo until kick-off, a reassuring presence at the time of the attacker’s need.

“We relaxed, played [golf] then fell asleep; nothing happened. We got up well, happy and ready to play. “

Dida has appeared in 91 games for Brazil and has gone to three World Cups; he was a team player in ’98 and ’02 and played in the race from the Seleção to the quarterfinals in 2006.

However, his greatest contribution to his country could simply have been in Yokohama; his personal touch on the day of this final could have made all the difference.

The events of July 12, 1998 were so bizarre that they would still seem a mystery to some, but with the help of Dida, Ronaldo resolved the matter in 2002.


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