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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK

The great World Cup final mystery

12 July 1998: France 3-0 Brazil

There is only one person who knows exactly what happened to Ronaldo in the hours before the 1998 World Cup final - and that is the man himself.

The Brazilian superstar sparked one of the biggest mysteries in football history when his name was left off the teamsheet, only to reappear just in time for kick-off.

A below-par Ronaldo was subsequently eclipsed by Zinedine Zidane in a one-sided match which saw France crowned world champions for the first time.

But the conspiracy theories about his role in the defeat are unlikely to fully subside until Brazil have buried the memory of that night with a fifth World Cup triumph.

" We lost the World Cup but I won another cup - my life "
Ronaldo

The facts are these.

Ronaldo was initially left out of coach Mario Zagalo's side when the teamsheet was issued 72 minutes before kick-off at the Stade de France.

Half an hour later he was back in the line-up.

Rumours of a dispute within the Brazilian camp were fuelled when the team failed to emerge for the pre-match warm-up.

The game itself did not live up to its dramatic prelude, Zidane rising twice above the Brazilian defence to give France a 2-0 lead before half-time.

Brazil tried in vain to stage a recovery after Marcel Desailly was sent off for France on 68 minutes, and Emmanuel Petit's last-minute goal sparked wild celebrations on the Champs Elysees.

It was initially reported that Ronaldo had been struggling with an ankle injury, then that he had an upset stomach.

There was even talk of poison and whispers about his turbulent love life.

Finally team doctor Lidio Toledo revealed the striker had been rushed to hospital after suffering a convulsion in his sleep but cleared to play after neurological and cardiac tests.

"We lost the World Cup but I won another cup - my life," Ronaldo later reflected.

"I don't remember what happened but I went to sleep and, like the doctor said, it seems I had a fit for about 30 or 40 seconds."

The most dramatic account came from Ronaldo's roommate Roberto Carlos.

He said: "Ronaldo was scared about what lay ahead. The pressure had got to him and he couldn't stop crying.

"If anything, it got worse because, at about four o'clock, he started being sick. That's when I called the team doctor and told him to get over to our room as fast as he could."

The Brazilian media demanded to know why Ronaldo had been allowed to play when his mind was clearly not on the game.

Team officials said he had been taken to hospital during the afternoon and his place in the team had been given to Edmundo.

When Zagalo addressed his side in the hotel he had reminded his players about 1962, when Brazil won the World Cup without the injured Pele.

But Ronaldo had later arrived at the Stade de France and declared himself fit to play.

Zagalo said after the game: "I kept thinking about taking him off.

"But he said he felt well enough to play and if I had not played Ronaldo after he said he was fit, I'd have been under even more criticism."

There were claims that team sponsors Nike had put pressure on Zagalo to play him. These were hotly denied.

The Ronaldo affair even resurfaced last year at a congressional inquiry into the finances of Brazilian football.

The player was called to give evidence, insisting the decision to play in the final had been entirely his own.

He was also asked whether it had been his job to mark Zidane at corners.

Ronaldo could not remember, but added with a smile that whoever it was had not done their job very well.


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