It was an effort that shocked one nation and evoked one of the largest alcohol-consuming, conga-dancing parties ever seen in another. Two teams were divided by one of the most fleeting, but truly magical, moments in football history. A goalkeeper became a nationwide embarrassment for a short period, whilst the playmaker that had so cruelly exposed him completed his ascent among the sport’s greatest heroes.
It was Ronaldinho against David Seaman, from an almost impossible distance, in a showdown between Brazil and England at the 2002 World Cup. It was the scene of one of football’s most stunning finishes – very rarely does a series of gasps precede a goal, they are only reserved for the most breath-taking strikes. But this one is perhaps the most breath-taking of them all.
Sven-Göran Eriksson’s England side had reached the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals, and faced off against a Brazil side boasting one of the most mercurial attack forces ever seen – Rivaldo, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho. The Selecao clearly fancied their chances of beating Seaman; Roberto Carlos had twice lashed efforts goal-bound with his unforgiving hammer of a left foot before Rivaldo also chanced his arm from distance. But when Ronaldinho stood poised over a free-kick 42 yards from goal, at a horrible angle to the right of the pitch, no-one certainly expected him to shoot.
Ronaldinho is a child, however, when in control of a football. He raced around the expanse of a football field with a permanent grin on his face, embracing every twist, flick, and turn as he breezed beyond opponents with consummate ease. The man made football look simple, and inspired so many to try and replicate some of his incomprehensible highlight reel. But there can truly be only one Ronaldinho, and his floated set-piece that dropped agonisingly over Seaman’s head secured his position in the pantheon of football greats.
Life is concerned with balance. Whilst someone may be determined to reach the very top of society, they will subsequently end up hauling others down around them. This theory could be applied to this particular Ronaldinho goal, as the Brazilian elevated himself to an almost god-like status after his lob. Seaman, on the other hand, had his international career effectively ended, soon to be replaced by David James. A figure many had viewed as being impassable, a mountain between the sticks, had been reduced to a pale shadow of his former self in front of millions watching on.
The debate about whether Ronaldinho meant the finish or not is futile. Of course he meant it. If the screenshots of the Brazilian’s steps leading up to his free-kick are examined, it’s clear that his focus is entirely on Seaman and the England goal. The sheer audacity to try and beat one of the sport’s most seasoned veterans at his near post is unparalleled, and paid off in the most spectacular fashion. Ronaldinho’s special goal propelled Brazil into the semi-finals, and ended England’s run through the tournament.
Despite only picking up a single win in the group stage of the tournament, the Three Lions had comfortably beaten Denmark in the second round, and had looked ahead to the Brazil clash with renewed optimism. But after the painful defeat to the Brazilians, the English media began to point their fingers at Sven-Göran Eriksson. They criticised his inflexibility and unwillingness to resort to a different tactic when England had been nullified by their opponents. There was a clear stress for dynamism. Eriksson would remain as England manager until 2008; the World Cup, then, would prove to be one step too far for the Swede.
Brazil, on the other hand, would reach the final of the 2002 tournament and clinch the title of world champions. Their final four clash came against Turkey, and a second half goal from Ronaldo secured a spot in the final. The victory wasn’t particularly Brazilian, it was hard fought and gritty rather than free-flowing and magical, but the Selecao had reached the final hurdle regardless.
They would play Germany in the biggest international match available in football, and of course they would win. A brace from Ronaldo rounded off another special tournament for Brazil, creating unforgettable moments for a team that would forever be spoken about in football folklore.
And of course, more importantly, individual brilliance is remembered too. Ronaldinho, the Brazilian magician, was a special player, untouchable by many, and his audacious chip over one of the sport’s greatest shot stoppers will forever be remembered as one of the World Cup’s more stunning moments.