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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ronaldinho: There’s nothing better in football

Ronaldinho: There’s nothing better in football: Your first FIFA World Cup was in 2002. What did it mean to you?
Ronaldinho: The initial feeling you get is that of fulfilling a dream. Every player dreams of pulling on the national team shirt, of playing at a World Cup. And when I got there, that was the feeling I had: that I was fulfilling my dream, and that I was experiencing the biggest event in football, the World Cup.

The build-up to that tournament was not easy. How did it feel going into your first FIFA World Cup with the pressure of proving to Brazil that you were worthy of replacing Romario?
It was tough getting there because Brazil has enough good players to be able to field several national teams. At that moment in time, the whole of Brazil wanted to see Romario play in the qualifying campaign. But the coach didn't agree and so had to endure all that pressure. I joined up with the team for the final few friendly games, right after the qualifiers were over. I joined up in the middle of all this turmoil, that's why it was tough going. But it was wonderful, particularly because I came away victorious and fulfilled an ambition that I'd had since I was a child.

You joined up with the squad straight after the qualifying phase was over, and took part in the final pre-FIFA World Cup preparations. How did you get on with the more experienced players?
Very well because I'd already played for the national team at the 1999 Copa America. After I was transferred from Gremio to Paris Saint-Germain, there was a problem which meant that I couldn't play for my club or the national team for five months. That was towards the end of the qualifying phase and that's why I didn't play in many of the qualifiers. By the time I'd started playing again the qualifiers were almost over. That's why I only joined up with the squad for the pre-tournament preparations. But I had a good relationship with the others because I'd already played alongside them at previous competitions and was really friendly with them all. That's why it was very easy to fit in.

Even though you had played for the national team before, the FIFA World Cup is quite different. How did you feel going into your first game?
The World Cup really is different from any other tournament, because everybody knows it's the greatest competition in football. That's why everybody is so anxious to play in one someday. When you get there, you can see just how special it is from the moment you take to the field. To experience the emotion of wearing your country's colours in the biggest competition of them all, knowing that the whole world has stopped what it's doing to watch the game. There's no doubt that it feels completely different from any other competition.

The team appeared to grow stronger after each victory. What were things like behind the scenes?
Every moment was wonderful because we knew exactly what our objectives were. There were a lot of young players taking part for the first time, and others for whom it was their third or fourth World Cup. They knew what it would be like. Our eagerness and motivation combined well with their experience, and that's why we all had such a good relationship. Whenever we were together, we kidded around a lot and tried to learn more about our opponents. Every moment we spent there was fantastic.

Which game do you remember most from the 2002 FIFA World Cup?
Every game was remarkable. During a World Cup there's no way you can say that one game is better than another. But the World Cup Final is always the biggest game. There was also the match against England, which was full of incident. Those were the two most memorable games.

Let's talk a little bit about the game against England. Before taking that famous free kick, did anybody give you any advice?
Well, a foul was awarded a long way from goal, and Cafu told me to try and hit it straight in because the keeper was off his line. So I shot and the ball went in. Not exactly where I wanted it go but I still ended up scoring.

Not long after scoring that goal, you were given a straight red card for a tackle on Danny Mills. How did it feel to go from hero to villain within such a short space of time?
It was a very tough transition because, at that point in the game, I was determined to do everything I could to help the team. It was a stupid incident, since I wasn't even on a yellow card and suddenly I was sent off. I went into a state of semi-shock, because I didn't expect that to happen.

You missed the semi-final through suspension and came back into the side for the Final. As the team took to the field, and in the opening minutes of the game, did you discuss how you were going to line up?
We used to talk a lot all the time. We all used to talk to each other about things at our training base. Before the game, we did the same thing. During the game, we knew how we were going to play and the experience of the other players helped a lot because they had been through it more than once and that calmed us down a lot. That's why these moments were easy to handle, by drawing on the experience the older players passed on to us. That helped a lot so when we took to the field we already knew what we had to do.

Who used to shoulder the biggest responsibility for talking the team through each game?
We all had a great deal of belief in each other, especially after the game against England, as we talked to each other a lot during that match. We really grew in confidence after that game, and things began flowing more naturally. Cafu was a very experienced player, having played at several World Cups. He pointed out a number of things to us, as did Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, who'd also taken part in tournaments of this kind.

How did it feel to hold the FIFA World Cup Trophy in your hands at the closing ceremony?
At that point you are the champions, but it still hasn't sunk in yet. You celebrate, but you still don't quite realise that you really are a world champion. I myself was only totally sure once I got back to Brazil and started travelling around. That's when I saw the impact the title has. When you're all still out there on the pitch, there is so much celebrating going on that you don't even realise that.

Do you remember how you felt when you held the Trophy for the first time?
I remember. It was when we were doing our lap of honour. At that moment I thought about the long road I had taken to get there, from children's teams all the way up. At a time like that, all kinds of memories flood into your head.

How does it feel to touch it again?
It's a special feeling, because there's nothing better in football. Being privileged enough to win that competition and hold that Trophy is the best feeling there is, because of everything involved in football and the sheer importance of a World Cup. Every time I touch that Trophy it gives me goose bumps and that's what motivates me to take part in one, two or three more World Cups and to win it again.
Is it a work of art? Do you think it could be a museum piece?
No doubt about it. It has left its mark. I think that it's one of the best-known objects in the world. Everybody knows what the World Cup Trophy looks like. You'd struggle to find many people on the street who wouldn't recognise it. That's why there's no doubt


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