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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

It was exactly the type of occasion that Romario wanted as a backdrop to his 1,000th goal - a big Rio derby, with 60,000 in the Maracana to see his Vasco da Gama side against Botafogo.

A Romario banner at a Vasco de Gama match
Romario needs one more goal to reach 1,000 in his career

The kick-off was delayed some 18 minutes while journalists, cameramen and interlopers were cleared from the pitch.

A special trophy had been made and an area at the side of the pitch roped off for its presentation.

And then, nothing. He is still on 999. Botafogo won 2-0 and the day came across as something of a letdown.

It is highly possible that global football history will come to a similar conclusion about Romario's career.

It might seem an extraordinarily harsh judgement to make.

After all, even if Romario's count is controversial (he has included goals scored before he turned professional, plus those from exhibition games) there is no denying that he has a whole heap of goals to his name.

But judgements are made not only according to achievement.

People are also measured against their potential - and here even Romario's staunchest supporter would find it hard to disagree that he has not scored nearly as many important goals as he might have.

Romario is quite simply the most naturally talented centre-forward I have ever seen.

Nearly three years ago - without ever imagining that he would still be going - I wrote in this space that he was football's answer to Muhammad Ali.

Like the early Ali, the young Romario was all speed, capable of picking up the ball some 40 yards out and bursting past everyone on the way to goal.

The later Ali got by on intelligence, positional sense and technical excellence - and so it has been with Romario.

He is a master at finding space in the penalty area, lurking beyond the far post, cutting in at the vital moment and then striking with a clinical coolness that makes him one of the greatest finishers.

There were glimpses of this genius on Sunday against Botafogo.

A cross-field pass found him free down the left channel and he poked the ball into the side-netting.

Another played him in down the right and he quickly brought the ball under control before lobbing just over.

The fact that he is capable of such flashes at the age of 41 is quite remarkable.

Brazilian football legend Romario in action for Vasco de Gama
One of Romario's chief opponents has been himself

But it tends to reinforce the impression that, with all this ability, he could have done more.

Ali's greatness is based not only on his own performance but also on the standard of the opposition.

He went in there with the Sonny Listons, the Joe Fraziers, the George Foremans and the Kenny Nortons.

Meanwhile, one of Romario's chief opponents has been himself.

Economy of effort is a great virtue - but push it too far and it can become a defect.

When he left Barcelona and came back to Brazil at the start of 1995, Romario was not yet 29 and at the height of his powers.

As football globalised and the Champions League grew in importance, he could have established his reputation as one of the all-time legends.

Instead of which he turned his back on the discipline needed to function consistently as a top-class athlete.

Going back to Rio meant moving to an environment where he was spoiled rotten.

He was given 'privileges' - at some stages he was even travelling to away games separately from the rest of his team.

What he was not doing was looking after himself properly.

So often his fitness deserted him at the vital moment.

The most glaring example, of course, is the 1998 World Cup, which, had he not broken down and been cut from the squad, could have been the definitive statement of his worth.

When it comes, reaching the magic 1,000 will be a fitting landmark for a magnificent footballer - but it cannot make up for all those important goals he could have scored.


How is Dunga and his attempts to change the way Brazil play being received in Brazil?
Since last year's World Cup, they seem to have taken on a more team-ethic style of play as opposed to the unorganised 4-2-2-2 mess of the previous coach.
Michael O'Neill

Michael, 4-2-2-2 is an established Brazilian way of playing - the problem in Germany was that they did it with two centre-forwards rather than splitting the strikers and also that it forced Kaka and Ronaldinho too deep, with marking responsibilities they are not used to.

Dunga started off with something like 4-2-2-2, only he split the strikers and brought in Elano to balance out the midfield, raiding the right flank but also working back.

But it did mean leaving quality players on the bench - which was fine as long as he was winning but was questioned as soon as he lost to Portugal.

So for the two recent games there was a change of system - 4-2-3-1, with a line of Robinho, Kaka and Ronaldinho operating behind a single striker.

Dunga was keen to see if a team with such an attacking balance could stay sufficiently compact to defend as well.

The results were mixed.

Brazil beat Chile 4-0, but Dunga admitted that the scoreline did not reflect the game.

More worryingly, the same was true of the 1-0 win over Ghana, where Brazil had problems marking the opponent's wide midfielders. Dunga said afterwards that 4-2-3-1 was not a system his side could use for every game.

So perhaps the conclusion is that finding a balance between individual brilliance and collective solidity will always put question marks in the mind of the Brazil coach.

What's happened to Uruguayan football?
Even though the national team hasn't won the World Cup since 1950, Nacional and Penarol used to do well at international club level.
I also remember being in the Centenario for a Uruguay/England match in the 1980s when Uruguay won well.
And good Uruguayan players figure strongly in both Spain and Italy (and occasionally in the Premiership).
Why has it all gone wrong? Any ideas?
Richard Garfield

Football owes a huge debt to Uruguay.

In terms of style of play - their 1924 Olympic win captured worldwide imagination, in terms of organisation - they staged and paid for the first World Cup and in terms of mass participation - enlightened social policies meant they were pioneers in selecting black players.

The truth is that Uruguay are victims of their own success

So the truth is that they are victims of their own success - once the game becomes a worldwide phenomenon it's hard for a nation of three million to compete.

Years ago when Uruguay played Brazil it was basically Montevideo versus Rio and Sao Paulo - now it is three million against 190 million.

And at club level, in today's global marketplace it's obviously impossible for such a small nation to hang on to its best players, so it's hardly surprising that they haven't won the Libertadores since 1988.

I also think there is a sense in which they've never really recovered from the mauling they took at the hands of the Dutch in 1974 - in 90 minutes they condemned Uruguayan football as slow and obsolete.

Given the size of the population, I don't think they do badly - it's not only England who suffer in the Centenario Stadium. Brazil have still never won a competitive match there.

There are some interesting signs as well - at youth level they have put their faith in technically gifted players, and the senior side has been doing well in friendlies playing a bold 4-3-3 formation.

But it is very hard to see them ever winning the World Cup again.

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

Controversy on the road to 1,000
21 Mar 07 |  Americas


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