Football: Rampant Ronaldo raises the stakes

Brazil 4 Chile 1 Cesar Sampaio 11, 27 Salas 68 Ronaldo pen 45, 70 Half-time: 3-0 Attendance: 48,500
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The Independent Online
THERE have been rumours recently that Ronaldo is struggling, receiving pain-killing injections for a thigh injury sustained in a group match. The World Cup was last night left wondering just what he might do if he gets fully fit.

On the broad back of his brace of goals - and he also hit post and bar - which added to two earlier by Cesar Sampaio, Brazil effortlessly swept to a quarter-final against either Nigeria or Denmark on Friday in Nantes, restating their case for a fifth trophy. Poor Chile were left floundering in the wash, Marcelo Salas's fourth goal of the tournament just a pinprick.

The Parc des Princes was a curious venue for the match, with demand for places far outstripping availability. This when the nearby Stade de France will host Nigeria v Denmark today. Surely those in power might have realised that Brazil would win their group?

Those fortunate enough to be inside - yellow shirts outnumbering red about 10 to one - witnessed yet another breathtaking Brazilian start and an early goal for the third time in their four matches. As in the tournament's opening game, against Scotland, the scorer was Cesar Sampaio.

When Rivaldo was fouled on the left touchline, up stepped Dunga to curl in a right-footed free kick. The Chileans held their line - and Cesar Sampaio was allowed to drift through unchallenged, finding himself in space a mere eight yards out to guide home the header.

It was swift indication that the Brazilians were in no mood to repeat the sloppiness of their last group match when they were surprisingly beaten by Norway. They had reverted to Mario Zagallo's first choice - which again meant no place for the ball-carrying Denilson when quick, sharp passing was the coach's preferred tactic - and there was a sure look to the selection that had won their first two games.

For Chile, winning would have been a novel experience after three draws - two of them, against Italy and Austria, were admittedly unfortunate as late goals pegged them back - were enough to qualify them for the knock-out phase.

The man they turned to - after omitting him from the early games - was the strolling Jose Sierra, whose brilliant long pass from midfield for Salas heralded 2-0 win over England earlier this year. It was on Salas, and his striking partner, Ivan Zamorano, that Chilean hopes rested.

First, though, they had to be fed the ball, something Brazil denied for long periods with Dunga marshalling the troops ably again from the deep position where he controlled the ball's flow in both pace and direction. It was no surprise when the Brazilians doubled their lead.

Another free-kick, this timefrom 35 yards out in a central position, brought Roberto Carlos into familiar position. Thousands of flashbulbs went off as his left foot launched the shot. Off went thousands more when the ball broke off the wall to Bebeto, who guided it to Cesar Sampaio to sidefoot a shot from the edge of the penalty area into the corner of the net.

At times it became exhibition stuff with Brazil stroking the ball around at will. Manfully, Zamorano tried to ignite his team and from one chipped through pass, Fernando Cornejo got behind the Brazilian defence only to send his cross shot too close to the goalkeeper Taffarel.

It was a token response as, two minutes into added time at the end of the first half, Brazil scored their third. Ronaldo burst through a static Chilean defence and knocked the ball round Nelson Tapia, then fell over the goalkeeper's body. Penalty, decreed the French referee Marc Batta and though Tapia got his left hand to the kick, Ronaldo was not to be denied his second goal of the tournament.

Chile made several changes for the second half, among them the replacement of the labouring Sierra, but it was merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They could find no rhythm and the frustrated Salas dined on scraps.

As a result, Brazil continued to dominate with Roberto Carlos causing rapid mayhem on the left and Leonardo cutting in cleverly from the right. Finally the crowd got their wish, with Denilson being introduced, but there was general displeasure at his replacement of Bebeto.

A fourth goal seemed only a matter of time. It almost came, and with it a hat-trick for Cesar Sampaio, when he just failed to turn home Dunga's free-kick atthe far post. It came closer when Rivaldo freed Ronaldo for a shot which thumped against Tapia's left post. Then Roberto Carlos's next 35-yard free kick was only a few feet too high.

Perversely, though, the next goal came from Chile. Fabian Estay clipped a ball forward and Zamorano's glanced header broke off Taffarel for Salas to head home. Their joy lasted barely two minutes. Denilson found Ronaldo free and this time he ran on to shoot past Tapia. Normal Brazilian service, ominously for the rest of the world, had been restored.

Brazil: Taffarel (Atletico Mineiro), Cafu (Roma), Junior Baiano (Flamengo), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid), Aldair (Roma), Cesar Sampaio (Yokohama Flugels), Dunga (Jubilo Iwata), Rivaldo (Barcelona), Leonardo (Milan), Ronaldo (Internazionale), Bebeto (Botofago). Substitutes: Goncalves (Botofago) for Aldair 78, Denilson (Sao Paulo) for Bebeto 65.

Chile: Tapia (Universidad Catolica), Fuentes (Univ de Chile), Margas (Univ Catolica), Reyes (Colo Colo), Miguel Ramirez (Colo Colo), Aros (Univ de Chile), Cornejo (Univ Catolica), Acuna (Univ de Chile), Sierra (Colo Colo), Zamorano (Internazionale), Salas (River Plate). Substitutes: Estay (Toluca) for Ramirez 46, Musrri (Univ de Chile) for Acuna 80, Vega (NY?NJ Metrostars) for Sierra) 46.

Referee: M Batta (France).