The Mysterious Final – Tales from the 1998 World Cup

france 1998 world cup winners

Author: Thor Haugstad

The repercussions of the 1998 World Cup final were perhaps best summarised by Alex Bellos, who in Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life noted that, for Brazil, coming second leaves more of an emotional impact than coming first. All things being normal, the 3-0 defeat to France should not have been possible. The Brazilians had won the World Cup four times—the latest in 1994—and had the best player on the planet; Ronaldo, who, at twenty-one, had won successive FIFA World Player of the Year awards. But a mystery had overshadowed the occasion. “The match soon transcended its sporting importance to become one of the resonant events in the country’s contemporary history,” Bellos would write in The Guardian four years later. Within weeks of the game, a lawyer had taken civil action demanding explanations. The Rio de Janeiro regional medical council questioned the team doctors. Topping it all was an official government investigation into why Ronaldo had fallen ill on the day of the game, why he had been removed from the line-up then reinstated just before kick-off, and why Brazil had played so poorly. “The pressure had got to him and he couldn’t stop crying…” Roberto Carlos would recall, according to ESPN. “Here was a twenty-one-year-old player, the best player in the world, surrounded by contracts and pressure. Something had to give. And when it did, it happened to be the day of the World Cup final.”

Brazil were always favourites for the tournament, even if the other title candidates—Argentina, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain—had qualified. The only disadvantage seemed to be the location. France were hosting their second World Cup, and had built the Stade de France, located in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris. The number of participants had gone from twenty-four to thirty-two. Golden goals were introduced, tackles from behind could now trigger direct red cards, and the fourth officials would use electronic boards. The designated ball was the adidas Tricolore. The mascot was Footix, a rooster, whose name combined ‘football’ and ‘Asterix’, the popular French cartoon, in which Asterix and Obelix resist Roman occupation in the village of Gauls.

The Brazilians were favoured for a reason. They were the only nation to have won the tournament on a foreign continent; a teenage Pelé inspired the triumph in Sweden in 1958. Besides, the 1994 World Cup had not been a solitary victory. In 1997, the Seleção had won the Copa América, in Peru, and the first FIFA-led edition of the Confederations Cup, staged in Saudi Arabia, in which Ronaldo and Romário had netted hat-tricks in a 6-0 final demolition of Australia. (Romário was the tournament’s top scorer, with seven goals. The runner-up was Vladimír Šmicer, with five.) They had also taken bronze at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, in which Ronaldo had played with ‘Ronaldinho’ on his shirt because of the presence of Ronaldo Guiaro, an older central defender. The coach was also accustomed to success. Mário Zagallo had been involved in each of Brazil’s four World Cup wins: he had played as a winger at Sweden 1958 and Chile 1962, was manager at Mexico 1970, and assisted Carlos Alberto Parreira at USA 1994.

In France, Zagallo had the squad to make it five. The goalkeeper would be Taffarel, the full-backs Cafu and Roberto Carlos, while the less convincing defensive partnership was Júnior Baiano and the ageing Aldair. In central midfield played César Sampaio and Dunga, who were both based in Japan. The aces were further forward: Rivaldo, Leonardo, Denilson, Ronaldo, Bebeto. Romário had been dropped, but there was space for Edmundo, who was selected on the back of a season in which he had broken the goalscoring record in the Brazilian championship, with twenty-nine goals, and received seven red cards.

Except the home advantage, France were not spoilt with clues about what was about to happen. Unlike Brazil, they had never won it. Since Michel Platini inspired Les Bleus to the semi-finals in 1982 and 1986—and to the Euro title in 1984—they had twice failed to qualify. Neither had they reached Euro 1988. When they made the 1992 edition, they were dumped out in the group stage. Only at Euro 1996 had results improved, but they lost their semi-final on penalties to the Czech Republic. This World Cup was another chance, though coach Aimé Jacquet was already being criticised for being too defensive. Looking at the squad, his stance seemed understandable. Fabien Barthez was protected by Bixente Lizarazu, Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly. Ahead laboured Didier Deschamps, Emmanuel Petit and Christian Karembeu. The playmakers were Zinédine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff, while up front, Jacquet rotated between Thierry Henry, Christophe Dugarry and Stéphane Guivarc’h. The bench had space for players such as Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Frank Leboeuf, David Trezeguet, Bernard Diomède and Bernard Lama, who had recovered from a two-month ban issued in February 1997 for smoking cannabis.

The squad was a celebration of multiculturalism. Examples included Djorkaeff, of Armenian descent; Thuram, born in Pointe-à-Pitre, a town on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe; Lizarazu, who is Basque; Vieira, born in Dakar; Zidane, of Algerian origin; Desailly, born in Accra; Trezeguet, fathered by an Argentine footballer; Henry, born to a mother from Martinique. Days before the first match, Jacquet addressed the players at Clairefontaine. “I want us to be together in this,” he said, according to FourFourTwo. “We need to focus. What is going to happen is so important… and I don’t think that you have fully realised yet.” The group draw had been kind, throwing up Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, but, for the first game, uncertainty reigned. “The pressure was intense,” said Petit. “I could see some players sweating on the bus before we arrived.” According to Zidane, the last training session had been dreadful. “If truth be told,” Zidane said, “before we started, we never thought we’d win the World Cup.”

One of the factors that made the 1998 World Cup so memorable was that most of the favourites survived the group stage. The only stumbling big hitter was Spain. Javier Clemente had a talented squad—Fernando Hierro, Raúl, Luis Enrique—but a 3-2 defeat to Nigeria and a 0-0 draw against Paraguay made their 6-1 win over Bulgaria a valedictory one. The Netherlands scraped through ahead of comeback kings Mexico. Argentina finished ahead of Croatia, with three wins and no goals conceded. Germany topped their section, as did Italy, despite failing to contain Iván Zamorano and Marcelo Salas. (That group also featured Austria, who scored all their three goals after the ninety-minute mark.) Only England proceeded in second place, having lost to Romania thanks to a late winner by Dan Petrescu.

Brazil were never going to slip up early on, though they did labour at times. The 2-1 win over Scotland was not convincing. César Sampaio flicked in an early corner to net the tournament’s first goal, but Scotland, who had arrived at the opening ceremony in kilts, equalised through a John Collins penalty. They succumbed only to an own goal by Tom Boyd. During that game, it became clear how Brazil played. Zagallo went with a 4-2-2-2 formation. Cafu and Roberto Carlos were adventurous, while the wingers, usually Rivaldo and either Leonardo or Denilson, took up central positions. Dunga, at thirty-four, dropped deep to spread passes. One notable element was the role of Ronaldo. Rather than playing as a typical poacher, he moved freely, taking runs out wide and sometimes coming down to the half-way line to link up and run at players. He never did make the Scots pay, but in the next game, against Morocco, a slick move culminated in a ball over the top that he hammered into the bottom corner. In that match, another sumptuous attack saw Rivaldo tap in the second, before Ronaldo stole the ball, left a defender for dead, and played in Bebeto for 3-0. The Brazilians had won their group. Their 2-1 shock loss to Norway did not matter.

Back in the France camp, Jacquet had an assured demeanour. “It built our confidence up to see that he was himself so confident,” said Desailly, according to FourFourTwo. “It made us more positive, and also helped us realise our abilities. I think he was mostly confident in the group itself, in our capacity to overcome any challenge that the competition might present, but the doubts did persist.” Few of those doubts abated with the first game, against South Africa. Dugarry calmed the nerves with an early header, but France did not strike again until the seventy-seventh minute, when Pierre Issa scored a clumsy own goal. Henry made it 3-0 in stoppage time. Neither the second game silenced the skeptics. On nineteen minutes, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Khilaiwi was dismissed for a tackle on Lizarazu, which effectively robbed France of any eventual credit. Lizarazu assisted Henry for 1-0, but once more, the second goal came late, Trezeguet scoring in the sixty-eighth, before Henry and Lizarazu added two more. Earlier, Zidane got sent off for stamping on Fuad Anwar Amin. He was suspended for two games. That somehow led to France’s best group-stage display, against Denmark, in which Djorkaeff’s penalty and Petit’s strike yielded a 2-1 win. The hosts were through.

In the round of sixteen, the title candidates continued to progress. The Netherlands beat Yugoslavia 2-1, Italy saw off Norway thanks to a Christian Vieri strike, Denmark hammered Nigeria 4-1, Germany sank Mexico 2-1, Croatia sent home Romania with a Davor Šuker penalty. Facing Chile, Brazil were comfortable. César Sampaio hit two more goals from set pieces, before Ronaldo scored a penalty and finished off another lovely move. Separate Ronaldo efforts hit the post, and the crossbar from six yards. At the same stage, France’s passage was nervier. The showdown against Paraguay went to extra time, the host country holding its breath until Blanc laced home an unlikely winner; the first golden goal in the World Cup’s history.

And yet the highlight of the round was Argentina versus England. Diego Maradona may have been gone, but the Argentine talent pool was still deep: Roberto Ayala, Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti, Claudio López, Gabriel Batistuta, Ariel Ortega, Juan Sebastián Verón and Hernán Crespo. Several players had won silver at the Olympics under Daniel Passarella, who was now accused of favouring his disciples of 1996. Not that Passarella minded controversy. The disciplinarian had already banned earrings from the squad. He had also threatened Fernando Redondo with expulsion if he did not cut his hair. Redondo had refused, which meant Argentina travelled to France without one of their finest midfielders. At the team camp, Passarella ran a tight ship, restricting press access and closing training sessions. According to the Washington Post, parts of the Argentine media would encamp on a nearby hill to catch a glimpse. One television channel paid more than $3,000 to a gas station in order to rent its roof.

England also commanded respect, despite their defeat to Romania. Coached by Glenn Hoddle, they had David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer and David Beckham. The match was one of the tournament classics. Within ten minutes, Batistuta and Shearer had rammed home a penalty each, before Michael Owen ran solo. Just before half-time, Zanetti equalised from a clever free-kick routine. Later, Beckham became the villain for his red card after kicking Simeone, while Carlos Roa became the hero in the penalty shoot-out. In the aftermath, the FIFA technical report offered some consolation for the English, saying there were “no serious weaknesses” in their team. “Overall, Hoddle is to be congratulated for his courage in using all these young players in the World Cup,” it noted. “This is a team with a future; they will be a force to reckon with in the next major international competitions.”

In the quarter-finals, neither Brazil nor France survived without tension. Denmark had already tested France in the group stage; now it was the Brazilians who would sweat. In the second minute, Martin Jørgensen scored. But then Ronaldo produced a moment of brilliance. Dropping deep to receive the ball, he spun away from three Danish players who had rushed out to press him. That left a gap in behind, into which Bebeto moved; seeing the space, Ronaldo found him with a reverse pass, and Bebeto scored alone with Peter Schmeichel. Following that up was an elegant Rivaldo chip. Brian Laudrup later punished a catastrophic Roberto Carlos bicycle-kick clearance, but then Rivaldo sniped home a twenty-five-yard shot. Brazil won 3-2.

The French faced Italy. It was a classic azzurri side that had returned to the traditional defensive school. The coach was Cesare Maldini; father of Paolo, and a defender for AC Milan in the 1960s under Nereo Rocco, the first manager to use catenaccio at a top club. In the qualifying group stage, the Italians had conceded one goal in eight games. A look at their defensive options explained why: Gianluca Pagliuca, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Costacurta, Guiseppe Bergomi, Alessandro Nesta; Demetrio Albertini, Luigi Di Biagio, Dino Baggio, Angelo Di Livio, Roberto Di Matteo. Up front, Vieri had been unstoppable. Cesare Maldini also had Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Filippo Inzaghi and Enrico Chiesa.

Though the defensive approach had worked so far, the Italian press wanted more adventurousness against France. Yet Cesare Maldini was never going to change. He started with four solid defenders—Bergomi, Paolo Maldini, Costacurta, Cannavaro—plus Francesco Moriero, Pessotto, Di Biagio and Dino Baggio. The only pure attackers were Del Piero and Vieri. That was always unlikely to produce many goals, especially against such a formidable French back line. Decent chances did fall to Vieri and Di Biagio, and Roberto Baggio, having replaced Del Piero in the second half, squandered an enormous opportunity in extra time. France had their moments as well, but the finishing was dreadful. Cue penalties, through which Italy had been eliminated in 1990 and 1994. Eventually, Di Biagio hit the decisive kick against the crossbar, before falling backwards, stretched out on the turf, with his hands covering his despairing face.

“Italy had maybe the best strikers in the tournament, but didn’t know how to use them,” Zidane said later, according to Football Italia. “You can’t have Del Piero and Vieri on the field and not play for them. You cannot keep Inzaghi and Enrico Chiesa on the bench when you need to score.” Cesare Maldini rejected the argument. “We could have played for days and France would never have scored,” he said. Not that France cared. Once more, they had qualified after playing more than ninety minutes. The semi-finals beckoned. “After the quarter-final, we really felt that the country was behind us,” Desailly said, according to FourFourTwo. “We couldn’t avoid seeing what was going on when we went through towns and estates on the team bus. Africans, Algerians, Arabs and Moroccans were all at their windows with French flags. They were mixing with French people and everyone was singing together and everybody had their faces painted in blue, white and red.”

In the semi-finals, Brazil met the Netherlands. Recovering from internal fallouts at Euro 1996, the Dutch had reunited under Guus Hiddink and had Edwin van der Sar, Jaap Stam, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Phillip Cocu, Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids and Dennis Bergkamp. (The squad also featured Winston Bogarde.) Late goals had become a theme. In the round of sixteen, Davids had hit the winner in the second minute of stoppage time; in the quarter-finals, against Argentina, they had scored a beauty on the ninety-minute mark. It was performed by Dennis Bergkamp, who should have been suspended at the time for a stamp on Siniša Mihajlović against Yugoslavia. Taking down a long ball from Frank de Boer, he controlled it deftly, prodded it past Ayala, and used his third touch to place it past a frozen Roa. “You never play the perfect game,” Bergkamp would say, according to The Guardian, “but the moment itself was, I think, perfect.”

(Incidentally, that moment was also the last one for Roa at a World Cup. A year later, he would retreat to the countryside to work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, believing that the world would end at the millennium. He meditated, prayed and stopped eating meat. The dietary preferences would earn him the nickname Lechuga. When the world did not end after all, he returned to Mallorca, but struggled to recover form and lost his place. By the time the 2002 World Cup commenced, Roa was playing for Albacete in the Spanish second division.)

Against Brazil, it looked as if another late goal would save the Dutch. The score stood at 1-0 after Ronaldo had shaken off Cocu to produce a low finish. Ronaldo also missed a separate one-on-one, and a great chance fell to Rivaldo, who shot straight at Van der Sar while sitting down. Three minutes from full time, Kluivert rose to steer home Ronald de Boer’s cross. In extra time, the tension seemed unbearable. Ronaldo had a bicycle kick cleared off the line, leaving Zagallo grasping his grey head on the touchline. To penalties it went. Taffarel saved from Cocu and Ronald de Boer, while calm Brazilian heads ensured no kicks were missed. The Brazilians celebrated wildly, and Zagallo shed a few tears.

Meanwhile, the French remained incapable of playing a game without drama. They met the tournament’s great underdog, Croatia, who were making their World Cup debut, having joined FIFA in 1992. Miroslav Blažević’s side had succeeded through the hard-nosed defending of Igor Štimac, Slaven Bilić and Dario Simić; the silky skills of Zvonimir Boban; and the predatory instincts of Šuker, whose six goals would win him the Golden Boot. The highlight so far had been a 3-0 quarter-final win over Germany. But the French would prove more solid. Besides, Zidane had returned, and he introduced himself early on with a series of long shots. Shortly after half-time, though, Šuker placed a measured finish beyond Barthez, and another surprise looked likely. Then Thuram awoke. Receiving a neat ball from Djorkaeff, he equalised, before adding another after a foray down the right. They were the first two goals of his hundred-and-forty-two-cap international career. They would also be the last.

In the build-up to the final, the debated centred on Ronaldo. He had struck four goals, but his contribution had also included assists and a bit of playmaking. “He didn’t come to France to compete with the players of his generation, but to seek a place amongst the best of the two millennia—this one and the coming,” Jorge Valdano wrote the day before the match, according to The Guardian. “If Romário, his predecessor, was subtlety, Ronaldo is exuberance. If Romário’s habitat was the penalty area, Ronaldo’s home would need to measure half the size of the pitch.”

In the France camp, the players were shaking. There is a video online that shows Jacquet carefully demonstrating how Ronaldo always feigns left and goes right; never the other way around. The players can then be seen discussing how to stop him.

“He did it to me at Milan,” says Desailly. “I didn’t see the ball. Whether he goes right or left, you don’t see the ball.”

Desailly imitates Ronaldo stepping over the ball, before miming that something disappears.

“Where’s the ball?” he says. “It’s magic.”

Then disaster struck. On the afternoon before the game, the Brazil players retreated to the Château de Grande Romaine hotel, where Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos were rooming. Suddenly, Ronaldo suffered a convulsion. His body shook and he frothed at the mouth. Roberto Carlos started screaming for help. Edmundo came in and reacted by running through the corridors slamming the doors. César Sampaio arrived and put his hand in Ronaldo’s mouth to unravel the tongue, to stop him from swallowing it. “I don’t remember properly, but I went to sleep, and then, like the doctor said, it seems I had a seizure for thirty or forty seconds,” Ronaldo would say, according to The Guardian. “I woke up, and then my whole body was in pain. But with time the pain got less, and I relaxed a bit.” The fit had passed, but he did not look himself. “It was as if a malaise had come over him,” said Roberto Carlos. “Not even he knew what was going on.”

The Brazil doctors decided to get him examined. When the team bus rolled towards the Stade de France, Ronaldo was sent to the Lilas clinic in Paris for further checks. Zagallo must have been resigned to losing him, for when he held the team talk, he tried to motivate the players by telling the tale of how Brazil had won the 1962 World Cup without the injured Pelé. When the team sheet was submitted, Edmundo had taken Ronaldo’s place. Unaware of what had happened, the press were caught off guard. Some journalist were told that Ronaldo had an ankle injury, while others talked about a stomach problem. According to a BBC article, other rumours ranged from his love life to poisoning. Less than an hour before kick-off, Ronaldo arrived at the stadium. The doctors had run neurological and cardiac tests without finding clues as to why the convulsion had happened. That made the episode even more perplexing. “I don’t know why,” Ronaldo would tell the BBC. “Nobody knows. Was it pressure or nerves? It could be. When you are there, and you breathe the competition, everything is about the competition. You cannot disconnect from it. It’s a lot of pressure. But I pleaded with Zagallo to let me play.”

And play he did. With the doctors giving Ronaldo the all clear, Zagallo put him back into the line-up. Brazil arrived late for the warm-up, Ronaldo emerging last. As if the press were not already confused enough, a second team sheet was submitted in which Ronaldo was now included. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career,” said the BBC’s John Motson. “The scenes in the commentary box have been absolute mayhem and chaos.”

Beyond Ronaldo, the team strategies for the final were predictable. Jacquet relied on defensive solidity, fielding a 4-3-2-1 in which Deschamps, Petit and Karembeu formed a disciplined midfield trio. Blanc had been suspended for a red card earned against Croatia, so Leboeuf stepped in next to Desailly. Up front, Zidane and Djorkaeff played off Guivarc’h. The Brazilian system was the same as earlier, with Leonardo playing on the right and Rivaldo on the left.

The game was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggested. On the balance of play, the teams had a similar number of shots, and Brazil dominated possession. Particularly Cafu and Roberto Carlos were busy, with Cafu constantly running at Lizarazu. However, there were some lapses in concentration that denoted unfocused heads. Leonardo had some strange touches, and was taken off at half time. Rivaldo trod on the ball and fell over, triggering a French break. Ronaldo had two horrendous involvements in which he seemed unaware of who was around him. Roberto Carlos sent a cross behind goal, and later gave away a corner by the touchline.

That corner would prove costly. Earlier in the tournament, warning signs had blinked over Brazil’s central defenders. Júnior Baiano and Aldair did seem like the weak link, and Brazil had shipped seven goals prior to the final. When Kluivert had equalised in the semi-final, no defender had even challenged him in the air. Earlier, Jacquet had apparently focused on Brazil’s slack marking. Even in the game itself, Djorkaeff had already flicked a free-kick off target. And so while Zidane would never be known for his aerial strength, Jacquet might have afforded himself a knowing smile when he saw his talisman nod in Petit’s corner on twenty-seven minutes.

As the half continued, Brazil kept making errors. Much would be made of the role of Guivarc’h, who did not score in the World Cup, and the final was certainly not his finest display. Apologists would argue that his contribution was about hard work and hold-up play, though he seemed to offer little of either. Early on, a back-heel went straight to a Brazil player. One cross had no address. Zidane found him with a brilliant piece of play, but he lost his balance when trying to shoot. Shortly before half-time, Júnior Baiano mistimed a long ball that gifted him a one-on-one. He shot low; Taffarel saved. At least that led to a corner, from which Guivarc’h forced another one. From there, Zidane headed home Djorkaeff’s delivery. It was the most indirect of contributions, and, true to form, Guivarc’h would squander another fat chance after the interval. But at the very least, he did do something.

Coming out for the second half, Jacquet was never going to risk a two-goal lead. France reverted to a deeper defensive block. Brazil kept hitting the wall. With France keeping three central midfielders in a compact shape, the Brazilians played more around the defence than through it. Roberto Carlos and Cafu kept probing, but the attackers seemed static and predictable. This particularly went for Ronaldo. History tells us that he played badly, but the more notable aspect was his passiveness and how rarely he got involved. He appeared sapped, unfocused, shut off. In the first half, he did little but clash into Barthez. In the second, a free-kick fell to him from a sharp angle; he struck it straight at France’s hairless custodian.

In the final twenty minutes, the pressure on the French increased as Desailly got a second booking. But Brazil had no answers. A few seconds after stoppage time had passed, Petit rolled home the third after a counter. France had won the World Cup. The players hugged each other, Barthez broke down in tears. That night, France’s adoration for its players knew no bounds. At some point, president Jacques Chirac came up to Petit and said: “You are the one my wife prefers.”

While France hailed the triumph, Brazil struggled to get to grips with the trauma. Ronaldo had become the symbol of the underwhelming final, and conspiracy theories soon surfaced. The two team doctors were accused on the grounds of professional ethics, but both were unanimously absolved. One theory claimed Brazil had been offered £15m to throw the final in exchange for an easy ride in the 2002 edition, plus the right to host the tournament in 2006. It also said that Ronaldo had refused and withdrawn from the line-up, only to backtrack when Nike had threatened to withdraw the sponsorship money. It was all ludicrous. Another conspiracy—and the one that stuck—was that Nike, who had signed a £105m contract with the Brazilian national team in 1996, and who also sponsored Ronaldo individually, had put pressure on their most bankable performer to play. Nike vehemently denied the allegations. According to Bellos, a congressman named Aldo Rebelo nonetheless managed to launch a government investigation into the relationship between Nike and the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) on the grounds that their contract violated “sovereignty, autonomy and national identity”, which are guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution.

Once it got going, the national congress summoned witnesses to Brasília to explain the Ronaldo episode. On 21 November 2000, Zagallo was called in. Defending his decision to play Ronaldo, and to keep him on for ninety minutes, he reminded the congress that the French doctors had passed him fit. “If you invert the situation and I didn’t put Ronaldo on, and then Brazil lost 3-0, people would say: ‘Zagallo is stubborn, he had to put him on, Ronaldo was the best player in the world’,” Zagallo said. “So I think I would do the same again.” He then added a line that might have explained some of the Brazilian errors. “Now, was it him being chosen that caused Brazil to lose? Absolutely not. I think it was the collective trauma, created by the atmosphere of what had happened.”

The team doctors were also scrutinised. Neither accepted blame. “Imagine if I stopped him playing and Brazil lost,” Lídio Toledo said. “At that moment, I’d have to go and live on the North Pole.”

Even later, Ronaldo emerged in front of a packed room. In his book, Bellos, who was present, writes that the player started out with the following line: “Do I, as a witness, have the right to a glass of water?” People were charmed, but the mood soon turned serious. Ronaldo defended his relationship with Nike and denied the conspiracies. Farcically, one person wanted to know whether it was he who should have been marking Zidane at corners—as if this was relevant to the Nike contract. Another asked straight out why Brazil had not won the World Cup, to which Ronaldo delivered a reply that effectively amounted to his famous line: ‘We lost because we didn’t win.’

The congress would never find any satisfying answers. Nike came out of it well, while nobody in the Brazil camp were culpable. According to Bellos, the most plausible explanation turned out to be that Ronaldo had been given an injection of xylocaine ten minutes before the convulsion, during which the drug had entered a vein accidentally. Either way, Ronaldo retained a philosophical view. “We lost the World Cup, but I won another cup—my life,” he said. That was a healthy sense of perspective, and, at the very least, he had played good World Cup. Besides, it wouldn’t be his last.

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