Ronaldo’s France 1998 often seems to be remembered solely for the Final and the mystery of his pre-match breakdown.
The drama of that situation perhaps makes this understandable, with the build-up to Brazil’s defeat to France overshadowed by an episode that left the entire team shaken. “I had a convulsion, after lunch in the afternoon,” Ronaldo recalled. "I was unconscious for three or four minutes. I don’t know why. Nobody knows. Was it pressure or nerves? It could be. When you are there and you breathe the competition, everything is about the competition. You cannot disconnect from it. It’s a lot of pressure.”
But if Ronaldo felt burdened by a weight of expectation, it is no wonder. He had, after all, spent the previous rounds justifying his pre-tournament tag of the world’s greatest player. Indeed, while he was understandably lacklustre in the Final, it should not be forgotten why he comfortably claimed the adidas Golden Ball in France, polling more than twice the votes of his nearest rival.
Goals like the one pictured made him an obvious and popular choice as the competition’s outstanding player. This was his fourth of the finals and broke the deadlock in an epic semi-final against the Netherlands. It also perfectly illustrated O Fenômeno’s attributes as, almost from nowhere, he broke beyond the Dutch defence, showing pace and strength to hold off his pursuers before planting a typically clinical shot under the advancing Edwin van der Sar.
Rivaldo, who had picked him out with a sublime through ball, stressed how much easier such assists became in the company of this striker supreme. “I didn’t need any time to gel when playing alongside Ronaldo,” said Brazil’s then No10. “He knew how I played and I knew where he liked to receive the ball. It was very easy to play with him because he was great at finding the right positions both inside and outside the box. As soon as I picked up the ball, he already knew what I was going to do with it.”
Ronaldo was on target again in the shootout that decided this last-four encounter in Marseille, this after Patrick Kluivert had struck late to force extra time. "This was very, very difficult, but now we have another match to play," Claudio Taffarel, another of Brazil’s heroes, said afterwards. "Brazil deserves a moment of joy. We take a lot of momentum into the final.”
That momentum was, of course, halted by those oft-discussed events on the afternoon of 12 July 1998. What should not be forgotten, as that episode is remembered and debated, is that Brazil would have been bound for home long before that date had it not been for their brilliant No9.
Did you know?
The famous start lists, changed in the build-up to the Final – one with Ronaldo omitted, the other with him restored to Brazil’s line-up – feature among the exhibits in the France 1998 showcase at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.