London 2012 Olympics: Players of Past Tournaments: Ronaldo - 1996
Olympic Games: Atlanta 1996
The Centennial Olympics in Atlanta was the first time that the world fully saw the precocious talent that was Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima at an international tournament. The Brazilian phenomenon went on to become one of the very finest strikers that has ever graced the game.
Ronaldo travelled to the United States two summers previously, but the raw 17-year-old did not feature at the 1994 World Cup, which his nation went on to win. In the summer of 1995 he made a brief substitute appearance in one Copa América game, where Brazil finished as runners-up. The previous year he had moved from Cruzeiro to PSV Eindhoven, where he spent two free-scoring years in the run up to the 1996 Olympic Games.
A forward blessed with electrifying pace and power, a lethal finish and superb close control, Ronaldo duly took his maiden international tournament by storm, finishing with five goals and a bronze medal. He wore the name Ronaldinho on his shirt thanks to the presence of the more senior Ronaldo Guiaro, as Brazil were knocked out after extra time in the semi-final against eventual winners Nigeria.
Ronaldo was only a substitute in the group opener against Japan, a game that the reigning World Champions lost. He started the second game against Hungary, and opened the scoring in the first half as Brazil won 3-1. In the decisive final group game against Nigeria, Ronaldo was the match-winner as he struck with a composed left-foot finish from outside the box to give his side a 1-0 victory.
In the quarter-finals, Brazil were losing 2-1 to Ghana approaching the hour mark, when Ronaldo's explosive pace was utilised for him to put away a quick free kick and then a beautifully dinked finish, putting them into a lead they did not relinquish. He went close to completing his hat-trick in a performance that was full of Maradona turns, fleeting footwork and incisive dribbling.
Nigeria were the semi-final opponents that Brazil had already defeated in the group stages, but proved a greater challenge at the second time of asking. Having failed to score and been slightly off the pace, Ronaldo was substituted five minutes before the end of normal time in a game that was won by Nwankwo Kanu in the extra period. He was back amongst the goals in the bronze medal playoff however, opening the scoring as Brazil put on a vibrant attacking exhibition to thrash Portugal 5-0.
Still only 19 years of age, Ronaldo flourished in a star-studded team that boasted the likes of Bebeto, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos, helping Brazil finish the tournament as top scorers with 16 goals. He was a constant menace to opposition defences, with his direct running and comfort in using either foot to control, shoot and utilise his bag of tricks.
Il Fenomeno had arrived on the international stage with devastating aplomb, and was signed in the same summer by Barcelona where he spent a single season that yielded 47 goals in 49 games. He was named named FIFA World Player of the Year in both 1996, and again in '97 after the world transfer record was broken by Inter Milan to take the mercurial striker to Italy for five seasons, before he joined the Galacticos of Real Madrid.
Ronaldo was an integral part of the Brazil team that reached the World Cup Final in 1998, but suffered numerous injury problems in the following seasons. However, he regained his fitness to fire his country to success in the 2002 World Cup, finishing as the tournaments top scorer. He netted 62 times for Brazil, and is the World Cup's all-time record scorer with 15 goals.
Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the greatest forwards world football has ever seen, and his considerable skills were first witnessed at an international tournament on the Olympic stage.
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