Ronaldo’s career with Brazil’s national team came to an emotional end as he was given a send-off during Tuesday’s friendly game against Romania.
Article continues below ...
The striker made a cameo appearance in the game from the 30th minute until halftime, when he was honored in a ceremony that recognized his contribution to the ‘Selecao’.
Brazil won the match – its last before the Copa America – 1-0, with Fred scoring in the first half.
The 34-year-old Ronaldo retired in February after an 18-year career. The three-time FIFA Player of the Year represented Brazil in four World Cups – winning two of them – and remains the competition’s all-time leading scorer with 15 goals.
Only Pele scored more goals for Brazil than Ronaldo.
Players from both teams lined up near the sideline and applauded Ronaldo as he left the field at halftime. Visibly moved, he put the Brazilian flag on his back, and with the ball in his hand, went around saluting the fans that packed the Pacaembu stadium. There were banners remembering the matches in which he scored each of his 15 World Cup goals.
”Thank you for all that you have done for me throughout my career,” Ronaldo said, addressing the supporters from the pitch. ”Thank you for having accepted me the way I am, for having cried when I cried and for having smiled when I smiled.”
Fans loudly chanted the striker’s name as he went into the locker rooms one last time.
”Brazil thanks Ronaldo,” read a banner held by fans.
”There is only one Ronaldo,” read another.
Fred opened the scoring from close range in the 20th minute after a pass by Neymar, then celebrated with his index finger raised, mimicking Ronaldo’s trademark goal celebration.
Ronaldo then substituted Fred, who bowed to Ronaldo before leaving the field.
The crowd cheered loudly every time the former striker touched the ball, and he nearly scored in the 35th after Neymar found him free from any markers in front of the net but he was unable to finish from close range.
Still out of shape, he missed another good chance in the 40th, scooping a shot from near the penalty spot and sending it way over the crossbar. Neymar set up Ronaldo again in the 43rd, but his low shot was saved.
”I had three chances, but in an ironic twist of fate I couldn’t score in my final match,” Ronaldo told fans. ”It would have been a small retribution for all that you have done for me.”
It was the first time Ronaldo played along with young sensation Neymar, who is touted as his replacement in the national team. Ronaldo said this week that the Santos player has the potential to be a star for Brazil when it hosts the 2014 World Cup.
Neymar is one of the clients of the sports marketing agency that Ronaldo became a partner of after retiring. Ronaldo also has in his portfolio young playmaker Lucas, who is touted as a future star and entered Tuesday’s match in the second half.
Among those watching Ronaldo’s farewell at Pacaembu was Barcelona president Sandro Rosell and several former Brazil teammates, including Cafu and Ricardo Rocha.
Tuesday’s match marked the end of the career of a player considered as one of the greatest Brazilian strikers of all time. He thrived with some of Europe’s top teams – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan – but it was with Brazil that he excelled the most.
He scored 67 goals in 104 matches in the yellow shirt, behind only Pele’s 95 goals.
As a teenager, Ronaldo was a member of the squad that won the 1994 World Cup in the United States, and in 1998 he was part of the team that lost in the final to France, having taken his place in the team despite suffering seizures the night before the match.
His biggest moment came at the 2002 World Cup, after he recovered from one of the many serious knee injuries that plagued his career. He scored twice in the final against Germany to lead Brazil to its fifth world title.
Ronaldo’s debut with Brazil was as a 17-year-old in 1994, and his last official match was in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where Brazil lost to France in the quarterfinals. His last club was Corinthians, Sao Paolo’s biggest club.
Although the night was for Ronaldo, Brazil coach Mano Menezes was focused on preparing the team for the Copa America, and the team put in an underwhelming performance. Some fans jeered Brazil as it struggled to create scoring opportunities.
Brazil drew against the Netherlands on Saturday, and under Menezes’ coaching, it has yet to be beat a major team, having lost to Argentina and France while recording wins over the United States, Iran, Ukraine, Scotland and now Romania.
The match also showed up some of the teething problems officials must fix ahead of the 2014 World Cup, with a power outage at the stadium a few hours before the game.
Tales Azzoni can be reached at http://twitter.com/tazzoni