Brazil arrived in Germany in the summer of 2006 ready to make history. One man eventually achieved that aim, although probably not in the manner anybody was quite expecting. Having lifted their fifth World Cup crown in Japan in 2002, many were expecting the seleção to repeat the trick on European soil four years later with a side that, on paper at least, looked like it would take some beating.
Under the stewardship of Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil had arguably a stronger side than the team which had powered its way to glory in 2002. Playing a loose 4-2-4 formation, the attacking prowess of the side was simply frightening.
Ronaldinho Gaúcho had been voted World Player of the Year for two successive seasons, and the Germany 2006 World Cup was being billed as his moment. Kaká, the driving force in the AC Milan side which had lost the Champions League final to Liverpool in 2005 but would go on to claim revenge over them in 2007, was not far behind in terms of technical quality and creative guile.
The attacking quartet was supplemented by Adriano, arguably the most powerful centre forward on the planet at the time. And, of course, his striker partner, Ronaldo Fenômeno.
At 29 years of age, there were signs that the almost magical natural powers that the boy from São Cristóvão possessed were just starting to wane. He had lived the fairytale in 2002 following the heartbreak of 1998, and now he had the World Cup record books in his sight.
Gerd Muller led the scoring charts with 14 strikes. Following his heroics in Japan where his seven goals carried his country to the crown, the Brazilian was up to 12, meaning just a further three in Germany would write his name into history.
Following a barren opening two games against Croatia and Australia, the 29-year-old netted a brace in the final group game as Brazil comprehensively dispatched Japan 4-1 to coast into the round of 16 and a tie against Ghana. The build-up, however, was all about one man and a potential date with destiny.
In line with a man so filled with natural talent that he can make the game look easy, Ronaldo did not let the storyline linger for long. Five minutes was all he needed of the knock-out tie against Ghana to write his own chapter in Brazil’s World Cup story.
An expertly weighted pass from Kaká saw the heavily built forward move agilely enough to latch onto the through ball, round the oncoming Richard Kingson and finish with typical aplomb. That opener was the platform the then-world champions needed to go on and record a comfortable 3-0 win, even if the final score line did flatter them slightly.
Yet despite criticism he faced in his twilight years, it went to provide ample evidence that Ronaldo was all but peerless in international football as a no. 9; that despite a series of horrendous injuries, the Rio de Janeiro native always seemed to save his best for the biggest stage of them all.
Ultimately, Brazil were eliminated in the next round by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France, Parreira’s lack of tactical flexibility meaning the reigning champions ended up paying the ultimate price. Brazil is not exactly short of heroes when it comes to celebrating their World Cup triumphs.
Pelé, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Romário and now Ronaldo have all been credited with leading the seleção to the top of the game, the driving forces of hugely powerful teams. Since their last win in 2002 Brazil have not yet reached another final, yet the former Barcelona and Real Madrid front man has managed to carve out his own piece of history in the face of collective failure.
The Brazilian scored his 15 World Cup goals in just 19 matches, a record that speaks for itself. In a country that has been littered with rich attacking talent down the decades, he has a legitimate achievement that makes him stand out from the pack.
He has two semi-final goals to his name and, more importantly, a brace in the final against Germany in 2002 which finally exorcised the ghosts of 1998 and the questions surrounding his initial exclusion and then inclusion in that fateful final against France.
But it was an almost run of the mill goal, in the second round, which catapulted Ronaldo onto a pedestal all of his own. Of course Miroslav Klose eventually went one better at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but Ronaldo’s fifth-minute strike in Dortmund was the one positive Brazil could take away from a tournament which saw them come in as favourites to defend their crowd, only to be sent packing before they could reach the final four.
The famous Yellow Wall in Dortmund was able to cherish one of the most glorious moments the finest striker of the last 25 years enjoyed in the famous yellow shirt. It may not have gone down in World Cup folklore, but Ronaldo most certainly has because of it.
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Also published on Medium.