It was the 2002 World Cup. Brazil, the tournament favourites, were riding high following an emphatic win in the 1998 World Cup final against the powerful German Die Mannschaft. With explosive youngsters like Kaka and Ronaldinho, the best striker at the time, Ronaldo, and experienced veterans such as Cafu, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos, the team looked unbeatable. They were.
Brazil cruised through their group stage matches against Turkey, China and Costa Rica and secured a win against Belgium in the Round of 16 after goals by Rivaldo and Ronaldo. During the quarter finals in Shizuoka, Japan, Brazil finally faced their first worthy opponent, England. After a defensive blunder by Brazilian defender Lucio, England striker Michael Owen put Her Majesty’s Team ahead in the 23rd minute. The tank that was the English back line did all it could to hold off a Brazilian invasion, but in the closing minutes of the first half the Brazilian artillerymen broke through and equalised.
The second half began and England was quick on the attack with Owen almost netting a second from a beautiful cross placed by superstar David Beckham. The play moved up and down the pitch, and following a Brazil throw in, the ball found its way to Kleberson, one of Brazil’s top young talents. Kleberson began a turn to incite a deadly Brazilian attack, but English midfielder Paul Scholes, as if it was his only duty, aggressively took down Kleberson from behind. Kleberson fell to the ground with agony written all over his face while Scholes walked away expressionless.
From roughly 40 yards out, Brazil had a free kick and an opportunity to keep their dreams of being consecutive world champions alive. 22-year-old midfield maestro Ronaldinho stepped up to take the set-piece as the English vigilantly marked their men in the box, as English goalkeeper David Seaman positioned himself to parry the ball away. The Porto Alegre native studied the pitch like a map and motioned for fullback Roberto Carlos, a man with a seemingly bionic left foot, to move closer. As Ronaldinho made first contact, gravity seemingly no longer affected the ball that was flying high through the air. Suddenly, gravity was switched back on and the ball arced down directly toward the England goal. This was no cross; it was a shot. Much like a fawn taking its first steps, Seaman stumbles in front of the goal, and the ball neatly tucked itself underneath the crossbar. It took the crowd a moment to process what they have seen before erupting in cheers. 2-1 Brazil.
7 minutes later, Ronaldinho received a red card for a careless tackle on Danny Mills putting Brazil in a precarious position with over a half hour remaining. However, Brazil managed to fend off the English, and Ronaldinho’s sending off was forgotten.
Ronaldinho’s wonder goal is much more than just another clip on a highlight reel. The goal is a manifestation of nearly a century of Brazilian progress and identity following European imperialist influences. It is a representation of a Brazilian triumph over its previous imperialists, almost to the point of embarrassment, in a game the English had brought to the country. This wonder goal is a perfect example of why when discussing Brazilian soccer we say “the English invented it, the Brazilians perfected it”.
Ronaldinho free kick vs. England, 2002
ClassicEngland. “Ronaldinho Free Kick v England – 2002 World Cup.” Youtube, 29 Apr. 2012, youtu.be/0oq974EmpBo
ESPN. “Brazil vs. England – Football Match Commentary – June 21, 2002 – ESPN.” ESPN, 21 Jun. 2002, http://www.espn.com/soccer/commentary?gameId=48864