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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Player Profile: Rivaldo

When Brazil arrived in France for the 1998 World Cup, Mario Zagallo was faced with the choice of which player to award the mythical number 10 jersey. In the matches leading up to the World Cup, Denilson Oliveira had worn the number 10 shirt on a number of occasions, but questions lingered as to whether the 20 year old sensation could fit into the attacking line-up given the presence of Ronaldo and Bebeto on the national team. Much to the controversy of the Brazilian media, Zagallo chose Rivaldo, the Barcelona striker and playmaker whose golden left foot had terrorized Spanish defenses since 1997. Many in the Brazilian press felt that Rivaldo was incapable of bearing the weight of the number 10 jersey that had once belonged to Pele, Zico and Rai. As the tournament unfolded and Ronaldo failed to score quite as many goals as expected, critics singled out Rivaldo as the cause of Ronaldo's lack of goals by claiming that he dribbled too much and selfishly held onto the ball when he should have passed to the strikers in front of him.

Everything changed in the quarterfinal match against Denmark. Brazil went down to an early goal in the 2nd minute by Martin Jorgensen but equalized, ten minutes later, thanks to a magnificent through ball to Bebeto from Ronaldo. The 34 year old Bebeto demonstrated all of his experience by maintaining his composure as he clinically dispatched the ball past the right of the diving goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. In the 27th minute, Ronaldo once again displayed terrific vision and positional awareness by creating yet another through pass, this time to Rivaldo, who promptly buried it in the back of the net from a narrow angle near the left touchline. Rivaldo had put Brazil ahead and scored his second goal of the tournament.

Just after halftime, Roberto Carlos tried to clear a loose ball in the area with a bicycle kick and missed, giving Danish striker Brian Laudrup the opportunity to rocket the ball into the roof of the net with his right foot past Claudio Taffarel. In the 50th minute, the match was tied 2-2 and Brazil were now in deep trouble. Another goal from Denmark or an ultra-defensive formation from them could spell trouble and pave the way for an early World Cup exit. But once again, Rivaldo rose to the occasion and took the match on his shoulders by living up to his number 10 shirt. In the 60th minute, Rivaldo turned on a pass from Dunga and converged on goal after having been given a pasture of space by the Danish defense. Taking sight of room to Schmeichel's left, the Barcelona striker unleashed a lawnmower shot into the bottom left corner of goal to score a dramatic goal that restored Brazil's lead. From that moment on, Rivaldo took over the Brazilian midfield by dribbling through Danish defenders, finding Ronaldo, Denilson, Leonardo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu and using the outside of his left foot to craft unexpected passes that troubled the Danish defense. Rivaldo answered the critics who said he was unworthy of the Brazil number 10 shirt and went on to create the killer pass that enabled Ronaldo to score against the Dutch in the semifinals in Marseille in the subsequent match.

In Word Cup 2002, Rivaldo--again in the number 10 shirt--took over the Brazilian attacking midfield yet again, and scored in five consecutive World Cup games against Turkey, China, Costa Rica, Belgium and England. As a club player, he is best known for his performances at Barcelona where he won the La Liga title in 1998 and 1999. In one of his more astonishing performances for Barcelona, Rivaldo scored a hat-trick in 2001 against Valencia featuring a curling strike from a free kick, a long range left footed shot and finally, a sublime bicycle kick goal that turned the score from 2-2 to 3-2 in Barcelona's favor with just minutes remaining on the clock. With his gangly legs and dribbling ability that recalled the Brazilian great Garrincha, Rivaldo represented the first truly creative Brazilian midfielder since Socrates. Nevertheless, his greatness was all too often eclipsed by his historical conjunction with legends such as Romario and Ronaldo who tended to steal the spotlight because of their raw goalscoring ability in contrast to Rivaldo's unique combination of playmaking ability and goalscoring power.

Now 38 years old, Rivaldo has just signed with the Brazilian club Sao Paulo after serving stints in Greece with Olympiacos and AEK Athens, Turkey with Bunyodkor and most recently, as President of the Brazilian club Mogi Mirim. In what appears to be evidence of reverse globalization, domestic Brazilian football now features Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos at Corinthians, Rivaldo at Sao Paulo and Ronaldinho at Flamengo.

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