After months of speculation over his future in the game, it took Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima just two cameo appearances for Corinthians - 25 minutes against Itumbiara and 30 in the Paulista clássico versus Palmeiras - to seal his latest comeback from serious injury with a vital goal.

Though still some way off returning to his physical peak, the top scorer in FIFA World Cup™ history showed in brief glimpses that his immense skill and eye for an opportunity remain intact - not least when popping up to nod an injury-time leveller in the 1-1 draw with Palmeiras on 8 March. As a result, the 32-year-old has already helped dispel some of the doubts which surrounded his signing for Corinthians in December and provided a welcome shot in the arm for followers of one of Brazil's best-supported clubs.

Ahead of what is sure to be a long and exciting year for O Timão on their return to the top flight after a season away, takes a closer look at some of the key figures at the club who will be sharing the limelight with Il Fenomeno himself.

Rollercoaster ride
Widely recognised as one of the most passionate group of supporters in Brazil, such was the anguish among the Corinthians fans in the wake of relegation from the top flight in 2007 that a drastic overhaul was required ahead of the 2008 Serie B campaign. Placed at the helm of that new project was coach Mano Menezes, who guided fellow Brazilian heavyweights Gremio of Porto Alegre to promotion from the second tier back in 2005.

In a strange quirk of fate, Menezes was in charge of the Gremio side which drew with Corinthians on the final matchday of the 2007 Brasileirao, thus consigning O Timão to the drop. Knowing full well just how strongly the dejected fans felt about the players involved in relegation, Menezes realised that a clean slate was required. Indeed, of that 2007 side, only keeper Felipe is still a first-team regular, having been one of the few to escape the supporters' ire.

Such was Menezes's success in rebuilding the team that the class of 2008 went all the way the final of the Brazilian Cup, even before the Serie B campaign had begun. Several of the new boys quickly became fan favourites, such as centre-backs Chicao and William, who was appointed captain, and left-back Andre Santos, who now shares a room with Ronaldo at team get-togethers. "It's a real joy to have him here, because Ronaldo is sensational," he said of his new room-mate. "He came here with a really impressive desire to fit right in."

Team-mate and national icon
Another man held in high esteem by the Corinthians fans is Douglas, the team's No10 and creator-in-chief. Bearing the main burden of responsibility for supplying the front-runners, Douglas has already felt the pressure increase since Ronaldo's introduction to the side. Having been barracked for days after an incident in the Itumbiara game when he took a shot at goal instead of seeking out Ronaldo, Douglas was relieved to get himself off the hook with the corner kick which Il Fenomeno headed home in the clássico. "I think that I've paid my debt now," said the No10, only half in jest...

Meanwhile, there is a clutch of gifted forwards all vying to partner Ronaldo in attack, including new signings Jorge Henrique, Souza and O Timão's leading scorer in last year's campaign: 20-year-old Dentinho. "At first, I went half to pieces alongside him: I can remember cheering Ronaldo on at World Cups and now he's here right next to me. Who knows, maybe we can form a double act called Dentinho (little tooth) and Dentão (big tooth)!" he jokes, referring to both players' characteristic gap-toothed smiles.

Faced with such levels of euphoria, coach Menezes faces a tough task to reign in expectations. Yet, having astutely added proven top-flight performers to the team that stormed to the Serie B title last year, Menezes is justifiably confident for the task ahead: "Besides Ronaldo, we've found the reinforcements that we needed and we now have more options. Corinthians have a very strong squad for 2009."

Having overcome the ignominy of relegation, and with their star attraction already on the goal trail after less than an hour's competitive action, could 2009 be Corinthians' year?