Brazil primed for final assault as Ronaldo breaks goal record

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The Independent Football

Ghana are the youth of football and Brazil at times look as old as the hills, but there is gold in them still - and an old maestro of a prospector named Ronaldo.

It could yet be the most uplifting story of the 18th World Cup that blazed into thrilling life again here in Dortmund yesterday as the reigning champions eventually cruised, by 3-0, into the quarter-finals and Ronaldo, in his 30th year now, became the greatest scorer in the history of the tournament.

Ronaldo hit his 15th - one better than the legendary German, Gerd "Der Bomber" Müller - as Brazil emerged from the time warp that for a while had made them seem like arthritic remnants of a great tradition, and desperately vulnerable to the beautifully launched threat of their bitter rivals Argentina.

The historic goal told the story of the match and potentially the tournament. Ghana, like their fellow Africans Ivory Coast, superb contributors to the early momentum of the group play, ran at the opposition with courage and arresting pace.

But then the champions struck like an old fighter with his back to the ropes. At 24, Kaka is no veteran - indeed, he is moving towards the prime of his career. However, the man he set free with a pass that dissected a high line of defence carried more than a hint of George Foreman as he lumbered on goal. Then, though, came the old knock-out blow, a marvel of timing. It was the fifth minute as Ronaldo dummied goalkeeper Richard Kingson and all this splendidly spirited - and athletic - Ghana team could do was run until their hearts broke.

The Brazilian eruption came at a most critical time for a World Cup that was beginning to lose its early sheen with the Doomsday England-Ecuador and Ukraine-Switzerland games and the mean anarchy of the Netherlands- Portugal.

It was not a demonstration of all the football virtues. Two players, Adriano of Brazil and Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, were booked for diving, the latter dismissed with his second yellow card, and if Ghana played some exhilaratingly quick football, their finishing ranged from the erratic to the tragic. What was gripping, though, as Adriano, who may have been scoring his last goal and making his last appearance in this tournament, and Ze Roberto added to Brazil's lead was the clear evidence that their coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, was moving towards his final formation for the assault on the high ground that starts with the quarter-final action.

By the finish, Brazil were a different, younger and distinctly more dynamic team.

Adriano, the muscular striker dismissed by some as "un-Brazilian" in his laboured approach, was replaced by the midfielder Juninho Pernamucano, while Arsenal's Gilberto Silva had come on for the experienced but often leaden Emerson - and here was the development which so many Brazilians had been urging, as Ronaldinho was pushed alongside his old hero Ronaldo. Several times the Two Ronnies came close to conjuring goals. More importantly, there was a hint of chemistry, and the sense that Ronaldinho might finally be on the point of breaking out of the shell in which he has been so strangely housed since Brazil's laboured opening performance against Croatia. There was a growing edge to his play - and his mood. His smile was less visible, his intent more plain. Once he turned half the Ghana team in one bewitching change of direction and at the end, after running unattended into the box, he was angrily shouting at his captain Cafu for failing to deliver the ball. This was more the Ronaldinho of the Nou Camp, the man at the centre of all the most persuasive action. This was the brilliant, often feckless youth turning into a football man of authority and vision in the shirt which some feel oppresses him with an unfathomable shrinking sensation.

In terms of this World Cup, Ronaldinho may still have been moving in the foothills of potential greatness. So may his team. But this was some confirmation of earlier stirrings. Suddenly Brazil looked a sturdier, livelier team. Their brilliance was less tortured, more rhythmic and, occasionally, more spontaneous. It made you think that maybe, just maybe, there might indeed be still another Brazilian goldrush.