The smile that football fans around the world know and love returned to Ronaldinho's face here at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 - a smile that suggests the 28-year-old Brazilian is enjoying his football again. And the AC Milan attacker was also back among the goals yesterday with a brace and an eye-catching performance in Brazil's emphatic 5-0 victory over New Zealand.
"I'm very happy to have scored two goals," said the Auriverde captain after the match. "My father would have enjoyed that game, if he was watching in heaven." Given the player last found the net eight months ago in former club Barcelona's 3-1 UEFA Champions League win over Stuttgart, the sense of relief was palpable. And his elation was clearly shared by his Seleção team-mates and the coaching staff, with Ronaldinho celebrating his successful spot kick by running to embrace all the Brazilian substitutes standing behind the goal.
"We saw that smile again today," said Verdeamarelha coach Dunga. "And let's not forget that he hasn't played for four months. But players as talented as Ronaldinho don't need long to find their find their feet again."
Ronaldinho aside, it was a superb all-round team performance from the Brazilians, including a second-half display that even had their opponents purring in admiration. "It's a pleasure to watch them play, they really are superstars," said Kiwi midfielder Jeremy Brockie. "Of course, we're disappointed to lose but Brazil are the world's best team."
As you would expect, the mood in the Brazilian camp was one of a job well done. "5-0 is a very good result," said midfielder Diego. "We're always expected to win comfortably but our opponents deserve respect. They were strong even if they lacked experience." And coach Dunga, at the Canarinha helm since July 2006, claimed that "it was the best team performance since I took over".
Brazil are now set to move base from Shenyang to Qinhuangdao, where they meet tournament hosts China PR in Wednesday's final group game. A draw would be good enough to ensure Ronaldinho and Co top the group but midfielder Thiago Neves is predicting even greater things here at Beijing 2008: "If we play like we did in the second half against New Zealand, then we can win the gold medal."
And forward Rafael Sobis, who snatched Brazil's fifth goal in injury time, also believes his side can go on to take the only major honour missing from their collection: "Brazil can win gold and do so by playing beautiful football."