Redemption for magic Ronaldo
By Mark Buckingham. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Ronaldo equalled a World Cup record with a stunning return to form as Brazil turned on the style to thump Japan 4-1 in Dortmund.
The much-maligned striker struck twice for the holders to level Gerd Muller's landmark of 14 World Cup finals goals - a figure which has stood since the last time the World Cup was staged on German soil in 1974.
Japan had the temerity to take the lead in the Group F encounter through Keiji Tamada, but Ronaldo headed Brazil on terms in first half injury time.
Juninho Pernambucano's drive put the South Americans ahead, Gilberto rattled in a third goal and, fittingly, Ronaldo completed the rout with a marvellous fourth goal to maintain Brazil's 100 percent record.
Brazil displayed much more fizz than in their previous two games, while Japan were indebted to keeper Yoshi Kawaguchi for the score being level at half time.
Ronaldo, looking to rediscover his seemingly elusive sharpness, had an early opportunity after accepting a Ronaldinho pass and lashing a drive which Kawaguchi parried away.
Kaka's run resulted in a sliced shot off target before Robinho darted in-field only to see his left-footed drive beaten out by Kawaguchi.
Juninho tried a typically ambitious free kick, but was way off target, while at the opposite end Junichi Inamoto drove over the crossbar.
Robinho, in the team at Adriano's expense, showed wonderful feet on the edge of the area before forcing Kawaguchi to tip his shot over the bar.
Midway through the first half, the Japanese keeper produced two saves right out of the top drawer, firstly when pushing a Ronaldo curler around the post.
His second save was even better as Ronaldinho and Ronaldo combined on the edge of the box to tee up Juninho, whose piledriver was magnificently nudged over the bar.
Japan offered an occasional threat on the break and stunned the holders on 34 minutes when Inamoto spread the play wide to Alex, the full back slipped a clever pass behind the Brazil defence and Tamada thumped a shot beyond the exposed Dida.
Brazil appeared riled and Ronaldo nipped in ahead of Kawaguchi, only to be forced wide and the move eventually resulted in Ronaldinho tamely dragging his effort wide of goal.
In first half injury time, Ronaldo grasped his retribution with a history-making goal. Ronaldinho clipped the ball into Cicinho, who headed across the six-yard box as all Ronaldo's predatory instincts came flooding back as he nodded home at the far post to become Brazil's all-time leading World Cup scorer.
A spring had returned to the previously laboured World Cup step of Ronaldo and a wonderful interchange of passes with Ronaldinho early in the second half ended with the Real Madrid man curling just wide.
Brazil took the lead on 53 minutes and it owed much to the ineptitude of the previously faultless Kawaguchi, who allowed Juninho's dipping drive from 30 yards to fly over his hands.
Kawaguchi showed better handling to grasp a Ronaldo header before Brazil set about putting Japan to the sword with an excellent third goal on 59 minutes.
Ronaldinho, stamping his class on the game, slid a brilliant pass through the Japan back-line for the marauding Gilberto and Roberto Carlos' understudy drilled a vicious shot beyond Kawaguchi.
Japanese substitute Naohiro Takahara lasted six minutes before being forced off through injury, while Kawaguchi made two smart saves from Robinho and Juninho.
Robinho was coming back into the game and a penetrating run only lacked an end product, when he rolled his pass too far in front of the slightly-on-his-heels Ronaldo.
Inside the final 10 minutes and Ronaldo equalled a World Cup landmark with a sumptuous finish into the bottom corner after a rapid exchange of passes with centre half Juan.
Brazil now meet finals debutants Ghana in the second round and, if continuing in this vein, a final showdown with arch-rivals Argentina in Berlin on July 9 seems a formality.
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|3||Shots on Target||13|
|8||Shots off Target||7|