Ronaldo, who had played the 1998 World Cup final in a daze and missed the next qualifiers with ruptured knee ligaments, provided a beautiful tale of renaissance by scoring the goals that won the 2002 tournament in Japan
In Saitama, during the summer of 2002, a busload of Japanese commuters facing the tiring last leg of their journey home found themselves suddenly overwhelmed by a gang of exuberant Brazilians who jumped aboard armed with ukeleles, percussion and an outpouring of joyous song. The centrepiece of this bouncing crew was a huge cheerful man in home-made drag costume his spectacularly garish makeup was smudged in all the elated excitement, his wig askew, his fake cleavage hoiked at a peculiar angle. He was dressed as Ronaldos nurse. He had scrawled the words over his outfit in case anybody needed clarification about the nature of his dressing-up. Ronaldos nurse explained that he felt obliged to ensure the nations great hope would be just fine anything to bring luck and protection to a mesmerising yet vulnerable talent was worth trying.
The bus made its raucous way back into town at the end of Brazils victorious World Cup semi-final against Turkey. Ronaldo had been the match-winner, a dominant force throughout the game, and the final whistle inspired fans behind the goal to hoist huge white letters to spell out his name Hollywood-style. This was a sentimental storyline that demanded the works. To take Brazil into the final, to grab another shot at that most special of games, to give himself and his country the chance to make some kind of peace after the shattering dramas four years previously, meant a great deal. The nightmare is over, Ronaldo said. Well, nearly. Just one more hurdle was required for the full catharsis.
Ronaldo Lus Nazrio de Lima, the Brazilian nicknamed Fenomeno, had a date with World Cup destiny and the story, scripted 15 years ago on Friday, is worth retelling as it remains one of footballs most beautiful tales of redemption.
It concerns a player who took our breath away from the moment he appeared in Europe, turning up at PSV Eindhoven at the age of 17 on the advice of Romrio, as a cheerful bucktoothed boy with supernatural ability. The way he combined powerhouse athleticism with a poetic touch made for an awesome sight. In the 1990s, in his physical pomp, in his free-flowing prime, there was nothing remotely like him.
Ronaldo was selected in Brazils squad for the 1994 World Cup at the age of 17. By then he had scored 44 goals in 47 games for Cruzeiro but he watched and learned rather than played as his compatriots won the tournament. By the time the next tournament came along in 1998 his reputation had extended to the point of fully formed marvel. A happening. A thing of wonder. It was only natural that great things were expected of him at the World Cup in France, aged 21 and anointed as Brazils golden boy.