Football: European Cup Final: Romario excels at the romance of scoring goals: Phil Davison on the Spanish champions' problematic but prolific Brazilian

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The Independent Online
WITH 20 minutes left in Spain's two League title-deciding matches at the weekend, Barcelona were still a point behind the leaders, Deportivo la Coruna. They were

2-2 at home to Seville while Deportivo were 0-0 against Valencia.

Enter Romario da Souza Faria. The 28-year-old Brazilian, known throughout the football world simply as Romario, had been on the pitch for 70 minutes but he might just as well have been on the bench. Then, in one moment of explosive action, he gave Barcelona the lead in the match and the championship which Deportivo had led since November. Mission completed, he was substituted by Johan Cruyff three minutes later. To conserve the magic, no doubt, until tonight.

The Brazilian was in his customary spot, in the arc of the penalty area with a Seville defender half-embracing him from behind and two others close at hand. Sacristan Eusebio pushed the ball through. A feint, a reptilian body swerve and Romario was alone slightly to right of goal. At that moment when you usually have time to wonder whether a striker will go for the near or far post, the ball was already in the net. The Brazilian had crashed it inside the near post with the venom and bend of his late compatriot, Garrincha.

It was a superb goal, so great that the little man broke into a rare smile and almost forgot his ritual of crossing himself and kissing his fingertips. It is a ritual he performed 30 times in the League, giving him the coveted pichichi (top goalscorer) award in his first season in Spain, and one Milan's depleted defence will have trouble suppressing tonight.

Team-mates and opponents alike believe the ritual is more than a Catholic one, spiced, perhaps, with a little black magic from a player who believes, like Maradona, his goals come from some higher power. His use of his hands is not always so admirable. Earlier this season, he was banned for four games for a left hook to the jaw of the Argentinian Diego Simeone in the away game at Seville.

Romario accepted the sanction but said Simeone had been less than civil in their duel. 'When they insult your mother and kick you. . . well, I don't have the blood of a cockroach. We're all human,' he said in an interview. 'God created me to delight people with my goals.'

He has no shortage of those. 'He's the only player I know who can dribble within a square metre,' Cruyff said. 'He's a player out of a cartoon strip,' said Jorge Valdano, the former Argentina World Cup player who will soon be manager of Real Madrid.

Romario does not run much, he does not defend, he even gives the appearance that walking is an effort. But he is strong and is as fast off the mark as Lineker. Like the legendary West German Gerd Muller, he has a low centre of gravity and that special feel for his position is in relation to goal.

The Brazilian's angelic face, however, is said to hide a wild side. He angered his previous club, PSV Eindhoven, by frequenting late-night bars in Amsterdam or often, between matches, back in his native Rio. Romario had joined PSV having twice been top scorer for Vasco da Gama, in 1986 and 1988. He scored 125 goals in five seasons with the Dutch side. Barcelona's chairman, Josip Lluis Nunez Clemente, is said to have had him watched by private detectives before paying the estimated pounds 3.5m transfer fee.

On and off the pitch, he has struck up a close relationship with the temperamental Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov. On the pitch, Stoichkov's pace, accurate crosses and his own finishing have made them a deadly double-act. Offstage, the Bulgarian has acted as Romario's minder. When photographers jostled the Brazilian after the recent kidnapping of his father in Brazil it was Stoichkov who quickly moved in to sort them out.

Romario feels more at home in southern Europe than in the Netherlands, where he thinks the Dutch did not understand him. He feels his Latin temperament as well as skills are understood and appreciated at Barcelona. 'There's passion on the terraces and there's a beach,' he said.