Football: Aussies pay for no-show Ronaldo

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF thousands of dollars are to be refunded to Australian football fans who bought tickets for tonight's match against a Brazil Under-23 XI expecting to see Ronaldo in action.

The match at Stadium Australia here had already suffered a blow to its credibility early in the week when Australia's own biggest draw card, Harry Kewell, failed to arrive from Leeds United. But Ronaldo's flight back to Europe, after Fifa ruled that his club, Internazionale, had already released him for enough international friendlies this year, has killed the viability of the event completely.

Free tickets are being offered in blocks of four and those who had already paid for their seats - variously estimated as between 25,000 and 40,000 people - have been promised their money back.

"We've used Ronaldo's image to promote the matches and it's only honourable that we react in this fashion," said Martin Jolly, the managing director of IMG, who are promoting the game and a second one in Melbourne on Wednesday.

"It's disappointing for the public and the players but it won't make any difference to our game plan," the Australian coach Frank Farina said. "Brazil will still have a very good side and the Socceroos just have to concentrate on doing the job at hand."

Ronaldo left Sydney on Friday, bitterly disappointed at being caught in the middle of a row between Internazionale and the Brazilian coach, Wanderly Luxemburgo. Kewell did not even get that far. Leeds refused to let him fly to Australia, saying the trip and matches would aggravate an injury he is carrying. Internazionale gave Ronaldo permission to play in today's match but not in Wednesday's, which prompted Luxemburgo to announce that the 23-year-old Ronaldo would play in both matches - or neither.

When Fifa came down on Inter's side, Luxemburgo made good on his threat and axed Ronaldo from today's game. "My goal was to play in Australia but I have to comply with the Fifa decision," Ronaldo said. "If I don't accept the decision, there are other threats of sanctions and also my contract with Inter. I am very sad about this."

Luxemburgo said Ronaldo's exit would upset his plans to prepare the Brazilian team for the Olympics. "It is not worth Ronaldo playing only one game and it is not good for our gold medal prospects," he said.

Australia's Tony Vidmar, the Rangers midfielder, said: "Brazil without Ronaldo are not Brazil, but they're still a showcase team. Any player out of Brazil is a quality player."

Australia's Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich tried to defuse criticism of the players. "Players are always going to get grumbles from clubs about the time of the matches and the travel involved. The problem won't go away," he said.

The Coventry player, John Aloisi, who is in Sydney on a promotional trip, appealed to Farina and Australia to organise more matches in Europe, where most players are based. "Flying 24 hours to Australia, if done more than once a year, takes a lot out of you," he said.

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