Warning for the world: Ronaldo is up and running. Running may be a slight exaggeration, but the incredible bulk from Brazil scored his country's first and final goals last night, overtaking Pele to equal Gerd Müller's record of 14 World Cup goals and punishing Japan for their impertinence in taking the lead through Keiji Tamada.
Ronaldo equalised with a header, and after goals by Junior Pernambucano and Gilberto, fired his second to complete a win that ensures Brazil return here to face Ghana in the second round next Tuesday. Their delight was their compatriot Zico's disappointment; his tenure as Japan's coach would have continued only had they remained in the tournament.
Watched from the stands by Pele, a clearly emotional Zico sang both anthems. If Brazil are some way short of the standard of the 1982 side he played in, they are at least starting to find the higher gears. They did so, moreover, despite Carlos Alberto Parreira having rested five players.
Yet the Brazil coach persevered with Ronaldo, pairing him with the lithe Robinho, and the theory that the roly-poly attacker needed match practice was handsomely vindicated. Almost from the first whistle there were indications that his eye for goal is getting sharper.
It was an impression he was eager to confirm afterwards. "I'm very happy that I've made such a significant improvement, physically and technically, during the tournament," he said. "Patience is the key word. In all the difficult moments, I have managed to stay calm."
Early on, Ronaldo took Ronaldinho's pass and skipped past Akira Kaji, only for Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi to parry his fierce shot. A near-identical scenario was soon played out, by which point Robinho had also twice tested the goalkeeper. When Ronaldo laid the ball back to Juninho Pernambucano for a brutal shot which Kawaguchi touched over, it seemed only a matter of time before the breakthrough arrived.
But when it did, it went to Japan. It was a goal made in Brazil to boot, with Alessandro Santos - or Alex as the naturalised Japanese citizen is known - picking out Tamada's run with a pass that deserved, and received, a fulminating finish inside Dida's near post.
Brazil, who had lapsed into complacency, roused themselves to draw level in first-half stoppage time. Ronaldinho's floated pass across the area was headed back into the danger zone by Cicinho, whereupon a thrust of the forehead opened Ronaldo's account for the tournament.
Shortly after half-time came a dash of the joga bonita that a festive crowd craved, even if it did not conjure a goal. Taking a pass from Ronaldo, Ronaldinho's back-heeled return was similar to the touch from Hernan Crespo which brought Argentina's third goal against Serbia & Montenegro last week. Ronaldo's shot fizzed just wide.
Brazil's second goal, eight minutes after the break, was an embarrassing reversal of fortune for Kawaguchi, the hero of the first half. Junior Pernambucano's 25-yard drive came at a height which the former Portsmouth keeper should have stopped with ease. Instead, it flew through his grasp.
Worse followed for Japan. Moments before the hour mark, Ronaldinho's pass found Gilberto galloping clear on the overlap. Entering the penalty area the left-back unleashed an angled shot which flashed across the rain-sprinkled turf into the far corner.
The last word went, fittingly, to Ronaldo. After a deft one-two with Juan, he turned and curled his shot beyond Kawaguchi from 20 yards. Ghana will not let him take Müller's record without a tougher fight but, for now, Brazil can bask in a victory that hints at a strong defence of their trophy.
Japan (4-4-2): Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata); Kaji (Gamba Osaka), Tsuboi (Uwara Reds), Nakazawa (Yokohama F-Marinos), Alex (Urawa Reds); Nakamura (Celtic), Ogasawara (Kashima Antlers), Inamoto (West Bromwich Albion), H Nakata (Bolton Wanderers); Tamada (Nagoya Grampus Eight), Maki (JEF United Chiba). Substitutes used: K Nakata (Basle) for Ogasawara, 56; Takahara (Hamburg) for Maki, 60; Oguro (Grenoble) for Takahara, 66.
Brazil (4-2-2-2): Dida (Milan); Cicinho (Real Madrid), Lucio (Bayern Munich), Juan (Bayer Leverkusen), Gilberto (Hertha Berlin); Juninho (Lyon), Gilberto Silva (Arsenal); Kaka (Milan), Ronaldinho (Barcelona); Ronaldo, Robinho (both Real Madrid). Substitutes used: Ricardinho (Corinthians) for Ronaldinho, 71; Ze Roberto (Bayern Munich) for Kaka, 71; Rogerio Ceni (Sao Paulo) for Dida, 82.
Referee: E Poulat (France).
Booked: Brazil Gilberto; Japan Kaji.
Man of the match: Ronaldo.Reuse content