Romario drags his heels

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Romario, one of the outstanding strikers of last year's World Cup finals in America, will join the Brazilian squad for next Wednesday's friendly at home to Slovakia, despite displaying a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the match.

He was yesterday persuaded to join the national squad by the president of Flamengo, Kleber Leite, the man who masterminded his return to Brazilian football. Romario has yet to score since his £3m transfer from the Spanish champions, Barcelona, to Flamengo last month.

The temperamental striker is among 22 players - nine of them members of Brazil's World Cup-winning squad - named by the coach, Mario Zagalo, for the friendly in Fortaleza. However, Romario immediately gave the impression that he might not accept the invitation, and wanted only to play in the Olympic Games.

"The coach of the national team and the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation know that I only want to think about the national team next year," he said, on being told of his selection. "I will be at their disposal for the 1996 Olympic Games."

Zagalo rejected the player's version of events. "He has never said anything like that to me. Anyway, I will only select players who want to turn out for their country," he said.

Romario has had a turbulent time since returning from Spain. His wife has filed for divorce, and his hectic social life has involved him in a number of highly publicised incidents.

Romario's return to Brazil was financed by a pool of seven companies, but the club itself has little money to reinforce the rest of the team.

Romario apart, Flamengo are having to depend largely on the same side who last year so infuriated the club's supporters. Three coaches attempted to get the club in order, but all ended up resigning.

The supporters first had to endure seeing their arch-rivals, Vasco da Gama, win the Rio de Janeiro championship for the third year in a row. This was followed by a wretched campaign in the Brazilian championship, when Flamengo failed to reach the last eight, which was the very least expected of them.

The only other reinforcement to the side has been Brazil's World Cup left-back, Branco, a player with a rifling left-foot shot, but who is also notoriously short of pace and stamina.

It is quickly becoming clear that the burden for bringing success to Flamengo this season lies exclusively on the shoulders of Romario, as illustrated by the newspapers on the day of the game against Fluminense. "It's Romario against Fluminense," one headline said.