If a footballer is truly great, then his legacy and memory will stand the test of time, no matter how many trophies he has or hasn’t won.
But in order to be widely considered as the best of the best, you must deliver on the biggest stages on offer, both domestically and internationally. And there is no greater stage than the FIFA World Cup.
One man who dragged his country to immortal glory was Ronaldo. O Fenomeno – star of DAZN’s new documentary ‘Ronaldo: El Presidente’ – confirmed his place among football royalty in 2002, when he scored a brace in the World Cup final to secure Brazil’s fifth triumph in the international tournament.
The striker’s heroics, along with his daring haircut, are the lasting memory from that summer in South Korea and Japan, as he banished the nightmares of the 1998 World Cup final defeat to France to write his name into the history books forever.
The world was watching Ronaldo’s every move at the World Cup from the off, and he didn’t disappoint. The devilish striker scored four goals in the three group-stage games, firing Brazil into the knockout rounds with extreme ease.
He was on target in the round of 16 as the Seleção cruised into the quarter-finals with a 2-0 victory over Belgium. For once, he had to rely on his teammates’ help to progress beyond England, but Rivaldo and Ronaldinho got the job done to book Brazil’s place in the semi-finals.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men faced Turkey, the side they had beaten in the opening match of the group stages, and once more, Ronaldo was at the heart of it all. The soon-to-be Real Madrid star grabbed all the headlines prior to the semi-final – not for narratives surrounding his performance or fitness, but for his bizarre choice of haircut.
Ronaldo rocked up with a completely shaven head, except for a perfect semi-circle which sat proudly on his forehead. He may have been the one with a half crescent moon on his head, but the stars certainly aligned in the Brazilian’s favour.
The forward scored the only goal of the game, dancing into the penalty area and surprising Rustu with an early poked shot, which nestled in the bottom corner.
Brazil’s defence did the rest, and the favourites were into the final. Facing them on 30 June 2002 was Rudi Voller’s Germany, although the real battle was against Ronaldo’s doubters.
Four years earlier, he had been expected to bring home the World Cup for Brazil, only for a series of strange and mysterious events to leave him far from match-fit for the final.
France cruised to a 3-0 victory, and the beaten finalists returned to South America with broken hearts and question marks over their superstar striker. So, redemption was on the cards for Ronaldo and co.
In the first half, it was panning out to be another frustrating afternoon for the finalists. Ronaldo could have scored a hat-trick in the first half, first poking the ball wide of the post with his left foot, then taking a slightly heavy touch when through on goal, and finally drilling a left-footed strike at the legs of Oliver Khan.
The two sides entered the dressing rooms level at half-time, with everything still to play for.
Time for heroes.
The Germany backline would have been all too aware of the threat which Ronaldo posed, and would have told each other at the break, “no silly mistakes and no gifts here.” So, it was an extremely bad time for experienced goalkeeper Khan to drop an absolute clanger on the world’s biggest stage.
But even if mistakes are made, you still need someone alert and alive enough to capitalise upon them. That’s where Ronaldo came in.
On 67 minutes, South America exploded. Rivaldo picked up the ball 20 yards from goal, and struck a fierce drive towards the net. The shot went straight down Khan’s throat, but the German choked on the ball and spat it back out into the six-yard box.
It looked as if the shot-stopper had got away with it, but a bolt of yellow lightning arrowed into the box from nowhere and hit the ball first. Ronaldo used his predatory instincts, smelt a sniff of danger, and gambled. That’s what the best do.
This time he was rewarded. He raced into the area, bore down on the vacant ball and placed it calmly into the back of the net. Chaos. Brazil were ahead, and it was all thanks Ronaldo. And he wasn’t finished, either.
12 minutes later, it was game over. Kleberson charged into the final third with the ball at his feet on the right flank, and popped it infield to where Rivaldo was loitering. The superstar drew the defence in, and allowed the ball to roll beyond him and into the feet of Ronaldo.
Unmarked and lingering on the edge of the box, there was only going to be one outcome. Ronaldo took one touch out of his feet, and passed a shot into the bottom corner with devastating accuracy.
The number nine wheeled away in jubilation, arms outstretched and head held high. He had done it. Brazil had done it. Ronaldo had put to bed any doubts over his ability to perform on the biggest stage, and in doing so, had become a legend back home in his native country.
He ended the 2002 World Cup with eight goals, a World Cup winners medal and a legacy thoroughly intact. A man worthy of the biggest stage of all.
Ronaldo is currently the focus of the brand new documentary series, ‘Ronaldo- El Presidente’. Having taken his talents from the pitch to the boardroom, the show follows his life as owner and president of Real Valladolid. You can watch the six-part series exclusively on DAZN now.