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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 12:24 GMT
Ronaldo return in doubt
Ronaldo scores for Brazil in the 1999 Copa America final
Ronaldo has not appeared for Brazil since 1999
As Brazil begin their World Cup countdown, BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery reports that Ronaldo's latest setback could see outcast Romario return to the side.

After their agonising qualification campaign, Brazil's World Cup build-up starts this week.

On Thursday, they face Bolivia in the first of three friendlies where the accent is firmly on experimentation.

Not until the end of March will they be able to field a full strength team.

For the Bolivia game, and the one against Colombia in early March, they are restricted to home-based players.

In between these two home matches they travel to Riyadh to face Saudi Arabia.

Romario's goals for Vasco da Gama have fuelled calls for an international recall
Romario remains a cult hero among Brazilian fans
For this game, said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari last week, it was possible that Brazil might be able to include some of their European-based legion.

And it was almost certain, he continued, that Ronaldo would line up for the national team for the first time since October 1999.

Scolari revealed he had spoken to both the player and Hector Cuper, his coach at Inter Milan.

And all concerned were of the opinion that a Brazil call-up would give Ronaldo a timely lift.

But as soon as the news crossed the Atlantic, Inter made it clear that their understanding of the situation was very different.

His comeback interrupted by muscular problems, Ronaldo has yet to play this year.


And there is no chance of Inter releasing him for international duty before he has taken the field for his club.

How could Brazil and Inter be in such sharp disagreement? The Brazilian press quickly drew its conclusions.

The talk of recalling Ronaldo to give him a lift was nonsense. Far more likely was the hypothesis that the Saudis were prepared to pay more if he was included.

Romario has seldom been the apple of any coach's eye, but he uses the media astutely
Tim Vickery
In the absence of Ronaldo, perhaps the Saudis would be happy with Romario? In which case, they will join a lobby which also includes large parts of press and public opinion in Brazil.

The veteran striker, 36 on Tuesday, captained his country against Uruguay last July, the first match of Scolari's reign.

After all the hype surrounding the new coach's appointment, the performance was a sad anti-climax. Brazil sank to a tame 1-0 defeat.

Ever since, Romario has been in the wilderness, but even so his stumpy shadow has been cast all over Scolari's progress.

The outstanding player of the successful 1994 World Cup campaign, Romario is by some distance the biggest star in domestic Brazilian football.


He has seldom been the apple of any coach's eye, but he uses the media astutely.

In every press conference, every public appearance, Scolari is bombarded with questions: why has Romario been left out of the squad again? What are Romario's chances of going to the World Cup?

The intensity rises every time Romario scores a goal - and there have been plenty. He was top scorer in last year's national championship, and has started this year in similar form.

Ronaldo in training with Inter, just before suffering his latest setback
Muscle problems have kept Ronaldo sidelined
On Sunday, Scolari was at Morumbi stadium to watch São Paulo host Vasco da Gama. Romario scored twice as Vasco came from two goals down to record an excellent 3-2 win.

Scolari had left before Romario got on the score-sheet - but it will not be so easy to escape the demands for a recall.

Throughout his career, Scolari has usually favoured the combination of a big centre forward with aerial presence alongside a more mobile striker who favours the flanks.

Romario does not fit the mould.

The coach is understood to have told friends that he has no intention of taking Romario to the World Cup. Even so, it will need a lot of guts to stand up to the nation.

Scolari said that he will name the squad for the trip to Saudi Arabia in the press conference after the Bolivia game. There will be a hush in the room as he announces the strikers.

BBC Sport's Tim Vickery
"Brazil's fans booed Romario's replacement"
See also:

16 Jan 02 |  Europe
Ronaldo begs for silence
17 Dec 01 |  Europe
Ronaldo injury halted flotation
08 Nov 01 |  Sports Talk
Are Brazil a spent force?
01 Aug 01 |  World Cup 2002
Brazil drop Romario
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