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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK

Ronaldo puts France 98 to rest

By Phil McNulty
BBC Sport Online, Yokohama

Pele embraced Ronaldo in a gesture that united Brazil's glorious past with its victorious present - a gesture made by two men who knew the pain and the glory of the World Cup.

The World Cup was back in its spiritual home after victory over Germany in Yokohama, and Pele and Ronaldo demonstrated the bond shared by those who know greatness.

Pele, more than anyone, will understand the sense of release felt by Ronaldo as he finally exorcised the ghosts of France 98.

Pele was unceremoniously hacked out of the World Cup in England in 1966, but returned in triumph in Mexico four years later as the focal point of arguably the greatest team that ever played.

Ronaldo has enjoyed a similar renaissance, emerging from even greater injury adversity to time his return to the greatest stage of all to perfection.

He has side-stepped questions about France 98 with the same ease and grace that has characterised his entire World Cup - but no-one can doubt it was a burden he wished to lift off his shoulders forever.

This time the pain belonged to Germany's outstanding goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, whose sure touch deserted him at the most crucial moment of all, when he allowed Rivaldo's tame shot to squirm from his grasp.

Insult was added to injury when the rebound fell to the man who wanted it most of all, the man who had waited four years for the moment to come.

Ronaldo made no mistake - and in that instant Brazil were World Cup winners for a fifth time.

For Kahn, it was the same tearful scene that was played out by England's David Seaman when he also made the fatal mistake of giving Brazil an inch in the knowledge they would take the full yard in the quarter-final.

Kahn was a disconsolate figure slumped against his post, a month's magnificent work undone in a second.

The Bayern Munich goalkeeper's stature is such that his grief was a magnet for team-mates and management.

Germany coach Rudi Voeller headed straight for the man he labelled "the best goalkeeper in the world" in an attempt to offer consolation.

And referee Pierluigi Collina, who added a World Cup final to his list of magnificent matches, broke with the normal etiquette to seek out Kahn and offer a very public gesture of comfort.

It was all played out against the backdrop of Ronaldo draped in the flag of Brazil, a hero who can now take his place alongside Pele in football's Hall of Fame.


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