World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – France 1998

The Ronaldo Final

For mere mortals who can only dream of kicking the leather for a living, the life of a professional footballer seems like a cushy one.

Being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for international acclaim and all the celebrity trimmings are world’s apart from the drudgery of daily life.

But the pressure of the World Cup is like nothing else ever experienced. Case in pont – Ronaldo in 1998.

The Brazilian front man scored an astonishing 47 goals in 49 appearances for Barcelona before sealing a move to Inter Milan in 1997.

He was undoubtedly the best striker in the world the season before France ’98, leading the Nerazzuri to the Uefa Cup, hitting the net 34 times in all competitions.

In the run up to the final the all conquering Brazil squad entertained the world with impressive wins over Denmark and Chile, with Ronaldo, the eventual Golden Ball winner for player of the tournament, scoring four goals.

At times it seemed like the hosts France were destined to win the their first crown but a double from Zinedine Zidane and a third from Emmanuel Petit in a 3-0 victory over the reigning champions didn’t tell the whole story.

The night before the match, fraught with nerves, Ronaldo suffered a severe convulsive fit and almost swallowed his tongue.

Paul Chevalier the director of the Chateau de la Grande Romanie – the team hotel – told France Info radio station after the game that a number of the Brazil squad thought that the forward was dead.

Chevalier said: “For a time we heard people saying ‘he’s dead, dead, dead. It created a terrible atmosphere around the team which was clearly demonstrated later on the pitch.”

He added: “I suppose Ronaldo’s nerves broke. He has been under dreadful pressure and he is young,”

Initially Brazil coach Mario Zagallo left him out of the starting line-up, only reinstating the clearly unfit striker – then just 21 – to the side just an hour before the match.

In all the nationalist fervour it is easy to forget that footballers are not Gods but are still expected to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And for one brief moment we were all reminded that Bill Shankly was wrong. Football is not more important than life and death.