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Brazilian legend Ronaldo recalls the 2002 World Cup Final

His name is synonymous with great sporting achievement, and his performance in the 2002 World Cup has become the stuff of legend. Ronaldo tells Michael Donald exactly how he led Brazil to victory

There had been much controversy surrounding Ronaldo’s 1998 FIFA World Cup Final appearance when he was taken off the team sheet just before the match and then put back onto it, owing to apparently having convulsive fits. He was clearly not on form and Brazil lost the final to France. By 2002 he was back. If 1986 was Maradona’s World Cup, 2002 was Ronaldo’s.

Brazil stormed through the group stages, scoring eleven goals in three matches, four of them Ronaldo’s. They then beat Belgium, England and Turkey to meet Germany in the final. Ronaldo was at the height of his powers.

World beater: in Ronaldo's own words

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“My parents were always very strict about my studies, so football was always more like a hobby. But when I was 12 years old I started taking it very seriously. I started to get bad grades in school, so eventually I dropped the studies to dedicate myself entirely to football. I played a lot of indoor football, where you have to carry the ball very close to your feet. Learning that helped me a lot.

I always received a lot of support. My parents were at every game I played. Deep inside I always appreciate the support that my family gave me, because you never know when you are a child that you will become a real football player one day.

I remember the 1982 World Cup really well. I was six years old. The next World Cup was the same and the next one, too – we kept losing. We did it in 1986 and in 1990. I always have that memory, right up until 1994, and by then I was in it! As children we had a lot to cry about.

I am very proud and honoured to have been part of the Brazilian team. It’s like serving in the army of your country in a war.

Playing for the Brazilian squad represents playing for my people. A World Cup is different from any other competition. For you to be able to play for your country is something genuinely special.

World Cup football, moreover, is not like mathematics where the numbers add up and things are obvious. We live in a world where we never cease being surprised by the results. In a World Cup, you see the favourite teams playing incredibly, and yet they end up losing. That’s why so many people fall in love with this game.

The journey to the stadium was bad. The traffic in Tokyo was very bad and we got stuck for about an hour and a half. We were really worried that we would be late. We made it, but it made us very anxious.

Rivaldo heard me screaming to open his legs and I just had the tranquillity to master the perfect control and kicked it into the corner

During the World Cup, in training, our coach Scolari [Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil manager 2001-2 and 2012-14] had a pet hatred of the frequency with which strikers waited for the rebound from the goalkeeper. He was afraid that going after the rebound could injure a player. I did it anyway and he would give me a hard time every time. And there he was, punished in the final with a goal scored in exactly that way. I had received the ball and then missed. I ran after the defender and pulled back, played it to Rivaldo, expecting him to perform a one-two, but he kicked it in direction of the goal. I ran, hoping that [Oliver] Kahn [the German goalkeeper] would parry the ball, and I was there and I just pushed the ball inside the net.

The second goal was more polished. It was a counter-attack coming from the right with [José] Kléberson, who rolled the ball through them midfield. Rivaldo heard me screaming to open his legs and I just had the tranquillity to master the perfect control and kicked it into the corner so that Kahn could not reach.

The feeling is unexplainable. It’s really the pinnacle. It is the ultimate sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment.

You win a World Cup, scoring two goals, and, with all the problems I’d had months before, returning from a serious injury, to me it was really a very important time.”

Final Score

Ronaldo won the Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the 2002 finals. That year he joined Real Madrid CF’s galácticos alongside Zidane and Beckham. His jersey sales broke all records on day one. In 98 matches for Brazil he scored 62 goals. He won the FIFA World Player of the Year three times and the Ballon d’Or twice. He is a sportsman for whom the adjective ‘legend’ is no exaggeration.

GOAL! by Michael Donald, published by Hamlyn, £20