Football: Ronaldo all the rage at Inter

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The Independent Online
Internazionale began enjoying the "Ronaldo effect" yesterday as 50,000 fans turned up at Milan's San Siro stadium for the Brazilian striker's debut in a friendly match against Manchester United.

Ronaldo, short of fitness following a three-week holiday, was replaced by the Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano after only 17 minutes of the pre- season exhibition game, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Inter lifted the Pirelli Cup courtesy of a 4-1 victory in the penalty shoot-out.

Nicky Butt emerged from the midfield to put Manchester United in front in the 15th minute, but an own goal by the substitute defender Gary Neville, who headed past Peter Schmeichel, levelled the score in the 70th minute.

Before the kick-off Inter supporters - many wearing black-and-blue striped Inter shirts bearing the No 10 that Ronaldo will sport - went wild as the 20-year-old superstar was shown off to the crowd along with his new team-mates. A huge Inter flag in the middle of the pitch displayed the national colours representing Inter's 11 foreign players.

Ronaldo, the most expensive player in the world, was the last of 28 players to enter the field and received a one-minute standing ovation. Dozens of children wearing Inter shirts mobbed the Brazilian and many caressed the bald head of the Brazilian as he left the field to prepare for the match.

Warm applause also welcomed the Nigerian Nwankwo Kanu, who was making his long-awaited comeback following an operation on a heart valve, and the newcomers Ze Elias, Benoit Cauet, Diego Simeone, Taribo West and Alvaro Recoba.

The old guard includes Zamorano, the French striker Youri Djorkaeff and the Argentinian Javier Zanetti.

Inter, who have not won the Italian title since 1989, have already spent pounds 18m to bring the young Brazilian from Barcelona and may be forced by FIFA, the world game's governing body, to pay the Spanish club an additional fee. Officials of the two clubs will meet to try to thrash out agreement and talks are scheduled for tomorrow in Zurich. Barcelona claims that the money paid by Inter only bought out Ronaldo's contract and did not include a transfer fee.

"Ronaldo is a costly present to Inter fans. I'm sure it will pay off," said Massimo Moratti, the oil industrialist who is owner and president of the Milan club.

It is one those supporters clearly appreciate. Season tickets sales have soared to a record of nearly 40,000 and are expected to go as high as 60,000 by the start of the league campaign on 31 August. More than 4,000 people watched Ronaldo's first training session at Appiano Gentile on Saturday, and yesterday's gate receipts amounted to pounds 600,000.

Yesterday's crowd for Ronaldo's presentation, larger than several of Inter's league and Uefa Cup matches attracted last season, was second only to the 80,000 Napoli fans who crowded the San Paolo stadium for the arrival of Diego Maradona in 1985.

Marcello Lippi, coach of the defending league champions Juventus, said Inter were fortunate to have signed one of the best world strikers. "However I don't think we are going to change our defensive tactics because of Ronaldo's presence in an opposition line-up," he said yesterday.

Ronaldo, who arrived in Italy on Friday accompanied by his fiancee, Susana Werner, said he decided to play for Inter in the Italian league to prove he can be a great striker even in the homeland of the tightest defences. To do so he will have to match the 34 goals he scored in 37 Spanish League games last season.