The 2002 World Cup final career marked the pinnacle of Ronaldo‘s career as, four years on from his heartbreak in France, O Fenomeno put Germany to the sword to win the biggest trophy of his career.
Ronaldo was a non-playing member of the squad as Brazil won the tournament in 1994 and claimed the Golden Ball in 1998, only for his final to be scuppered by a fit he suffered on the afternoon of the game.
Finally, in 2002, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima had the grand occasion his freakish talent deserve – and we’ve looked back at that famous day in Yokohama.
We’ve been here before with Ronaldo – not once but twice – but it’s worth remembering that there is always an element of the schoolkid in Ronaldo; all giddy energy and cocksure swagger.
But tonight is his night, and there is much more steel in his eyes as he fixes a stare on Oliver Khan, like two gunslingers preparing for a duel at dawn. Admittedly, that haircut is worse than we remembered.
Okay, not everything goes Ronaldo’s way. But being perfect is boring. We don’t want our heroes to be perfect, we want them to be flawed like the rest of us.
Ronaldinho’s pass is too good, too aesthetically pleasing. Perfect goals aren’t scored in World Cup finals. They’re tense, cagey affairs, and Ronaldo is still just warming up.
Despite winning the Golden Boot, Ronaldo could not retain his Golden Ball award for best player at the tournament. Instead, that accolade went to professional lunatic Oliver Kahn.
Their battle tonight will be the greatest sub-plot of the game. The world’s deadliest striker against the world’s craziest goalkeeper. It’s the latter who records the first little victory.
Already well-acquainted, these two are going to get to know each other a lot better as the night goes on. Thankfully, there is no bad blood.
Again, Kahn prevents Ronaldo from opening the scoring, but after miscuing his first chance wide and awkwardly juggling the ball for his second, the striker is beginning to look sharper as his troublesome frame loosens up and his body and mind attune to the rhythm of the match.
Fans will always talk about Ronaldo in terms of his otherworldly ability, sublime trickery and, most importantly, shitload of goals.
But perhaps the biggest theme of his entire career was his refusal to give up, whether that be from the disappointment of failing to play at the 1994 World Cup, his final being cruelly scuppered in 1998, or the debilitating knee injuries which plagued him in Italy.
That translated to his performances on the pitch, and while he continues to be frustrated by the German rearguard, he certainly isn’t about to stop trying. It’s only going to take one moment…
And there it is. And it all comes from Ronaldo’s tenacity to win back possession from Germany’s midfield.
Throughout the match it has been Kleberson collecting the ball on the edge of the box. Finally, Ronaldo’s partner in crime, Rivaldo, is the man in the danger area. Fittingly, it is these two that ultimately force the opening goal.
It’s incredibly cruel that Kahn makes the crucial mistake, but Ronaldo doesn’t care as he runs to the corner wagging his figure, that gap-toothed grin never looking so resplendent.
John Motson has hardly been able to contain himself in commentary whenever Ronaldo has been on the ball and now he gets to enjoy his release. He has already confirmed the goalscorer, but then the narrative of redemption dawns on him.
Fortune is finally favouring O Fenomeno now.
Germany are having to resort to shots from long range. Their energy and industry is admirable, but they lack the class and guile of the Selecao.
When Ronaldo and Rivaldo can operate on telepathy alone, what chance do you have? And that finish. Ronaldo strokes the ball home like he’s on the training pitch with an outrageous ease. A playground footballer enjoying his crowning moment in the World Cup final.
The finger wag and grin are back. They won’t be leaving for a little while now.
Compare this to the scenes in 1998, when a shaken Ronaldo left the World Cup final with his head in his hands and his R9s around his neck.
Fast forward four years, the game and Golden Boot have been sewn up, and our hero can be taken off before full-time to soak up the adulation.
On the afternoon of the game, while his team-mates enjoyed a pre-match sleep, Ronaldo was so worried about about suffering a repeat of the fit that he made Dida stay up and talk to him to keep his mind occupied.
“I was very scared,” he later admitted to Gary Lineker in a BBC documentary.
It’s absolutely criminal that Ronaldo never got to lift the European Cup. But being perfect is boring. We don’t want our heroes to be perfect.
And looking back at this moment, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the main man all over again.