Brazil coach says Ronaldinho can make 2014 WCup
After rediscovering his form, fitness and passion for soccer, Ronaldinho has been given hope he can re-establish himself as a permanent fixture for the Brazilian national team through the 2014 World Cup on home soil.
The two-time world player of the year will play his first game for his home country in 10 months when the Brazilians take on Ghana in an international exhibition in London on Monday.
A string of impressive displays for Flamengo in the Brazilian league persuaded Brazil coach Mano Menezes to recall the 31-year-old Ronaldinho, who is now being viewed not just as a supremely gifted player but also a mentor to the country's new wave of talent.
''This isn't a temporary solution,'' Menezes said Sunday. ''It's important for the Brazilians to have someone like Ronaldinho, with his experience and his history with the Brazil team, with a World Cup coming up. Alongside the younger players, he will try to build the Brazil team so we can get to the next stage (in their development) and then to the World Cup.
''Yes, there's a long time to go yet but a player like Ronaldinho has got the qualities we need. It's about playing well at this time and he's been doing that with Flamengo so I do believe he is able to play at the World Cup.''
A world champion in 2002, Ronaldinho was one of the best players of the last decade, but after a glittering, trophy-laden spell at Spanish giant Barcelona between 2003-08, his career nosedived at AC Milan.
Back in Brazilian soccer with 10 goals for Flamengo this season, he is again playing with a smile on his face and Menezes had no qualms in bringing him out of the international wilderness for the match at Fulham's Craven Cottage ground in southwest London.
''He needed time to adapt to being home again and that's what I was looking for - to see if he could play regularly, play well and enjoy himself,'' Menezes said.
''Ronaldinho brings a lot. He is a leader, has that technical part to his game and he is a player you can rely on to help with all the young players coming into the team now.''
And Ronaldinho's teammates are happy to have him back.
''As a player, we all know what he is capable of,'' said Lucas Leiva, the Liverpool defensive midfielder. ''He's been out of the Brazil squad for a few months but whenever he comes back to the national team, we have a lot of respect because he has such a great history.
''We hope he can help the young players develop to a good level. But he wants to keep going and play in the next World Cup as well.''
Menezes has turned to Ronaldinho after seeing his team eliminated from the Copa America at the quarterfinal stage, on penalties to Paraguay, and then lose 3-2 to Germany in an exhibition last month.
In 13 matches in charge of Brazil, Menezes has six wins, three losses and four draws - and with the rebuilding job after the 2010 World Cup not going as smoothly as planned, he is starting to come under severe pressure.
Outwardly at least, Menezes appears unruffled.
''With our team, every game is a must-win,'' he said. ''I'm not worried about my job and what is being said. I just try to do the best job that I can but in football you never know what might happen.''
Robinho is missing for Brazil because of a groin injury, the same problem that will deprive Ghana of star striker Asamoah Gyan, who was hurt in Friday's African Nations Cup qualifier against Swaziland.
A 2-0 win not only maintained Ghana's unbeaten record in the campaign, it also meant the World Cup quarterfinalists have lost just one of their last nine matches, giving them hope they can beat Brazil for the first time.
Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic, whose side drew 1-1 with England at Wembley in March, said he would bring changes after Friday's match to give some younger players a chance.
''Gyan not playing is a big problem for us ... and Brazil will be the favorites,'' Stevanovic said. ''But we have a chance. Why not? We got a very good result against England and I hope we can get another.''