Football: Ronaldo fiasco leads to Aussie ticket handout

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THE BRAZIL striker Ronaldo flew out of Sydney yesterday without kicking a ball in two scheduled friendlies against Australia because of a row between his national team and his Italian club, Internazionale.

The Leeds United striker Harry Kewell had already withdrawn from the Sydney match as Elland Road officials refused to let him fly to Australia, saying the trip would aggravate an injury he is carrying.

Promoters, who had advertised the games in Sydney tomorrow and Melbourne on Wednesday as a chance to see Ronaldo lead a young Brazilian team, said tickets would now be free. Refunds will be made on tickets that had been sold at A$150 (pounds 61).

The Socceroos, led by the Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, play Brazil tomorrow at Sydney's Stadium Australia, the main venue for the 2000 Olympic Games. Ronaldo had hoped to use the match to get a feel for the pitch as he lobbies to be part of Brazil's Olympic team.

Ronaldo left Sydney bitterly disappointed at being caught in the middle of the row between Internazionale and the Brazilian coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo. Internazionale gave their permission for Ronaldo to play tomorrow but not on Wednesday. Luxemburgo said the 23-year-old would play in both matches - or neither.

When Fifa, the game's world ruling body, came down on Internazionale's side, Luxemburgo made good on his threat and omitted Ronaldo from tomorrow's team. Under Fifa regulations, a player can be requested for a maximum of seven times a year by his national association. After that, a request must be approved in writing by the player's club. Brazil had already requested Ronaldo six times this year, so without Internazionale's permission he was eligible only for the first match in Sydney.

"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 Internazionale. 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.

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

However, the side playing in Australia is not Brazil's first team. They will be visiting Spain, who have the task of taking on two former world champions in the space of five days. Their other game is against Argentina in Seville on Wednesday.

Spain's task could be helped by the laid-back preparation of the Brazilian squad for this game. While Jose Antonio Camacho brought the bulk of his squad together on Monday, the Brazilians have arrived from all corners of the earth this week, with goalkeepers Marcos and Zetti not due to join up with the squad until yesterday.