Ronaldinho thrilled by Flamengo debut in Brazil

Ronaldinho thrilled by Flamengo debut in Brazil

Published Feb. 3, 2011 4:08 p.m. ET

Ronaldinho left the field struggling for words to describe his emotions after his debut for Flamengo and return to Brazilian soccer.

The 30-year-old forward helped Flamengo defeat Nova Iguacu 1-0 at a packed Engenhao stadium in the Rio de Janeiro state championship on Wednesday, marking his return to Brazilian soccer after 10 seasons in Europe.

''It was unforgettable,'' Ronaldinho said. ''I have no words. One of the greatest thrills of my life. I have to thank everybody at Flamengo for welcoming me with open arms.''

More than 40,000 fans at the Engenhao prepared a big party for the two-time world player of the year, who was cheered nearly every time he touched the ball.


Supporters put on Ronaldinho masks, showed banners celebrating the playmaker, and held up cards with ''Welcome R10'' in Flamengo's colors - red, black and white.

When the match ended, the crowd chanted Ronaldinho's name and gave him a standing ovation. The player went to midfield to thank the fans, bowing toward them.

''I'll never forget,'' the former Barcelona star said. ''It was perfect.''

Tickets for the match were sold out in just two days. In Ronaldinho's official introduction on Jan. 12, nearly 20,000 fans packed the training stadium to welcome him.

Wearing the No. 10 jersey made famous by Zico, Ronaldinho didn't have a great performance on Wednesday but was able to create some dangerous scoring opportunities for his teammates. Substitute striker Wanderley scored the winner from close range in the 86th minute, giving Flamengo its fifth straight win to start the season.

Ronaldinho biggest scoring chance was a free kick shot that was saved by Nova Iguacu goalkeeper Diogo near the end of the first half.

''I would have liked to play better than I did,'' said Ronaldinho, the team's newest captain. ''But we reached our goal, which was to win.''

It was Ronaldinho's first match since leaving Milan last year. He missed Flamengo's first four matches to improve his physical conditioning and adapt to his teammates.

''It was a long time without playing,'' he said. ''I still have to regain rhythm.''

Flamengo coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo praised Ronaldinho's debut but said he expects the player to improve considerably throughout the season.

''He played well for his first match,'' the former Brazil and Real Madrid coach said.

Ronaldinho came back to Brazil to try to revamp his career and return to the national team for the 2014 World Cup, which will take place in his native country.

He helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup. In the 2006 tournament, Brazil was eliminated by eventual runner-up France in the quarterfinals.

Ronaldinho was not asked to play at the World Cup in South Africa last year, but new coach Mano Menezes said he plans to use Ronaldinho if he plays well with Flamengo.