A veteran of Brazil’s bids for football gold at Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008, Ronaldinho had a taste of the Olympics for a third time on Thursday, climbing on to the stage at the Estadio Maracana’s auditorium and helping with the group-phase draw for Rio 2016.
Now 36, Ronaldinho had a hand in the drawing of Brazil’s groups in the two competitions, with the men being pooled with South Africa, Denmark and Iraq, and the women also taking on the South Africans, as well as China PR and Sweden. “It’s hard to know if I brought them luck,” he told FIFA.com with a smile before pausing for a moment and drawing on his extensive experience to predict how the host nation’s teams might fare, “The men’s group has turned out quite well, and I think Brazil can go through without too much trouble. The women’s group is stronger. It’s unpredictable.”
The two tournaments will get under way on 3 August and will be staged in six cities across Brazil: Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Salvador, Sao Paulo and the host city, Rio de Janeiro. Though the country has celebrated five men’s world titles over the years, it has yet to win Olympic football gold, with not even Ronaldinho’s brilliance proving enough to take A Seleção to the top of the podium.
Regarded at the time as the next big thing in Brazilian football, Ronaldinho was only 20 when he made his Olympic debut in 2000, which came shortly before his move from Gremio to Paris Saint-Germain. By the time he returned to the Olympic stage eight years later, he had established himself as a star of the global game, having been voted FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and again the following year, and helped his country win the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
The feeling I had in winning an Olympic medal was a dream come true for me.
Though Sydney 2000 ended in disappointment for Ronaldinho, when his side were knocked out by Cameroon in the quarter-finals, he at least picked up a medal on his return to the Games in China, where he collected a bronze.
“They were both wonderful experiences and very different to each other,” recalled the man himself. “Everything was new to me first time around, but by the second time I was experienced and I saw things differently. The feeling I had in winning an Olympic medal was also a dream come true for me.”
Now that he is able to put his Olympic career into perspective, Ronaldinho feels that an ability to handle the pressure could well be crucial to the chances of the men’s team, coached by Dunga, who was also in charge at Beijing 2008. The ball-juggling genius said he believes Rio 2016 is an occasion they should enjoy, no matter how much is made of the nation’s long wait for Olympic gold, or the fact that this is the first official tournament on home soil for the players since Brazil 2014 and that 7-1 scoreline.
“They should have fun,” he commented. “And they should also embrace the opportunity to make history, to go down in history, above all else. You have to be happy about playing at home, which I feel could make things easier. If they make a good start, then the fans will push them all the way to the final. We have to hold on to that dream.”
In savouring the Olympic experience for a third time, Ronaldinho will hope he has made his contribution and done his little bit to change Brazil’s luck.