Global acclaim for Ronaldinho

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The Independent Online

Ronaldinho was the cover story on USA Today's sports section on Tuesday, a rare accolade for any "soccer" player but rarer still for a non-American. The cause was his replacing David Beckham as the most valuable football "brand", being worth an estimated $56m (£31m) according to reports. This despite his toothy grin and lack of English.

Any European-based Americans who tuned in to television coverage of that night's Champions' League semi-final first leg in Milan to see what the fuss was about will not have been disappointed. While the Brazilian's performance was patchy - there were too many misplaced passes by his own stratospheric standards - there was enough evidence of his genius to convince any casual sports fan that the media's genuflection is not hyperbole.

What was also apparent is the psychological impact he has on others. The World and European player of the year inspires his team-mates and mesmerises opponents. Milan initially tried to kick, then cramp him. Once he bewitched Gennaro Gattuso, they became wary, focusing on him to an unhealthy degree. Thus Ludovic Giuly was given space to score the night's only goal from Ronaldinho's pass.

With Lionel Messi hoping to be fit for next week's second leg at the Nou Camp, it is hard to envisage Barcelona being denied another goal. That would leave Milan having to score at least three to progress.

But Milan, taking their cue from owner Silvio Berlusconi, who still refuses to concede defeat in the Italian elections, will not step aside easily. "They are a good team and it will be different to most matches at the Nou Camp when teams only come to defend," said Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The former Arsenal player admitted he was tempted by the thought of facing his old team in the final, but cautioned that both sides had work to do.