Romario: I'm the face of Rio
When the ball starts rolling for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005, hosts Brazil will be the centre of attention. Having won nine of the 10 World Championships held so far, they are bound to start as favourites.
The Brazilian team's attack will not only have sand soccer wizards, but also one of the greatest strikers in the history of football. He was acknowledged by FIFA in 1994 as one the world's best footballers after his decisive role in the Brazilian team's fourth FIFA World Cup™ victory in the United States.
Romario has scored 915 goals (up to 04/20/05) in a career which started in 1985 and has lasted 20 years. He has been the topscorer and champion at almost every club he has played for, but he is after another victory - one on the sand to make up for more than 50 years of heartbreak over a defeat which still evokes disbelief among the inhabitants of South America's largest land.
"The last FIFA World Cup to be staged in Brazil took place in 1950, and Uruguay put on the party," Romario tells FIFA.com. "Now the time has come for Brazilians to celebrate. My generation only hears of what happened, but it upsets us and we can imagine how hard that defeat was. Now it's time for us to set the record straight, and I'm very excited to be in this group and help write this story.
"Many people have claimed to be 'King of Rio', and I don't want that crown. I'd rather say I'm the face of Rio. Although many think I'm a player who was brought up on improvised football pitches, the beach was always a part of my career as I played soccer and foot-volley. I feel at home there," the great striker adds.
Being called up for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has made Romario excited. He recognises that the end of his football career is near, and Beach Soccer gives him the chance to score goals for at least another three to five years.
"I'm about to finish my career in football, and that may happen at the end of this year, following the Brazilian Tournament," the much-travelled player says. "Beach Soccer will allow me to do what I like most, which is to play. And, most importantly, I'll be doing it at competition level, for titles. That makes everything much more interesting and healthy."
After Pele, the greatest Brazilian striker
Romario knows that many fans will be in the arena at Copacabana Beach just to see him. The football virtuoso has a host of fans. He was the leading striker in the Rio de Janeiro Tournament seven times, three for Vasco, and four for Flamengo. These are the two clubs with the most supporters in Rio de Janeiro.
"I admit that I didn't expect to participate in another FIFA competition. So, when I knew that I'd be among these beach soccer experts who have won nine World Cups, I gained extra motivation. I'm getting ready to play every match, despite the physical stress. To me 20 minutes on the sand is more tiring than 90 minutes on the field, but I'll prepare myself for the game and compensate with my experience," Romario adds enthusiastically.
The Rio-born striker is already making plans for his future on the beach. As a player for Vasco, he will participate in the Brazilian Tournament, but his first goal is yet another world championship. Then, he plans to participate in the 2007 Pan-American Tournament, also in Rio.
"I've been in the Olympics once, and I could have participated in four World Cups. Here on the beach I'll participate in one more World Cup, and I'll also have the opportunity to participate in a Pan-American Tournament, which I've never done before. It is one more thing to motivate me in this new career, especially because the competition will take place in my hometown," he explains.
Romario knows his Brazilian team colleagues well. He played with many of them in the São Paulo v Rio de Janeiro challenge match, and participated in the World Cup play-offs, despite an injury. He highlights Júnior Negão, Jorginho and Neném for their experience, names Benjamin as one who could rival him for goals in the World Cup, and highlights the potential of younger players like Buru and Bruno. He acknowledges that the Brazilian team start as favourites, provided that they don't take the opposition for granted.
"This group is the best that could be chosen in Brazil. They are all high-quality players, and will be important in the campaign. We know that we are called the favourites, but Beach Soccer has developed in several countries, such as Portugal and Spain, and there will also be a rivalry with Argentina and Uruguay. We must be very careful and view each match as if it were a final. I want this group to feel the pleasure of winning the FIFA World Cup, and Brazilian football fans to celebrate the world championship at home together with the Brazilian team," Romario smiles.