x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Early exit from Club World Cup a blow to Ronaldinho

Former star had hoped to play his way into Brazil squad for next year's World Cup

Ronaldinho, centre, of Atletico Mineiro looks dejected during the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Raja Casablanca on Wednesday. Lars Baron / Getty Images
Ronaldinho, centre, of Atletico Mineiro looks dejected during the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Raja Casablanca on Wednesday. Lars Baron / Getty Images

MARRAKECH, Morocco // Ronaldinho’s hopes that a good performance at the Club World Cup might earn a Brazil recall have been dashed by Atletico Mineiro’s shock elimination at the hands of Raja Casablanca.

He twice was Fifa World Player of the Year while playing for Barcelona, and he provided two tantalising glimpses of his unique talent before drowning in a sea of mediocrity in Wednesday’s match.

He scored Atletico’s only goal in the 3-1 defeat with an exquisite free kick and, buoyed by that, cheekily flicked the ball over an opponent to send the Brazil fans into raptures.

For most of the game, however, Ronaldinho, 33, looked off the pace and ponderous as the ageing South American champions were upstaged by a team of run-of-the-mill Moroccan league players. The low point was when he tried to pass a defender with a bold dribble on the byline and was easily dispossessed.

Ronaldinho won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, was part of the team that went out in the quarter-finals amid high expectations in 2006 and was omitted altogether by Dunga, the coach, in 2010.

His performance on Wednesday was painfully similar to his ineffectual display for Brazil in a 2-1 friendly defeat to England last February, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s first game in charge of the five-time world champions.

On that occasion, Ronaldinho was substituted at half time after missing a penalty and performing sluggishly.

Scolari gave him a couple more run-outs in low-key friendlies but was clearly unimpressed and did not call him up for the Confederations Cup squad in June.

With the 2014 World Cup on the horizon, Ronaldinho had been hoping to earn another chance by leading Atletico to the title in tomorrow’s final against Bayern Munich.

“I’m just thinking about Atletico. I want to make the fans happy, represent my country and my club,” he said on Monday. “But if we all play well here, then the whole world will see it.

“Everyone knows what I’ve achieved but I want to prove that I’m in good form and to reach the highest point which there is in Brazilian football, which is the national team.”

Ronaldinho’s performance was especially dispiriting as he had spared no effort to be ready in time for the Club World Cup after suffering a thigh injury in September.

It was initially feared he would be out for the rest of the year but, amid almost daily coverage of his race to be fit in time, he recovered more quickly than expected and scored two goals for Atletico as he returned on the final day of the season.

The former AC Milan and Barcelona playmaker’s career has been in a steady decline since he won the player of the year award for the second time, in 2005, blamed mainly on his partying lifestyle.

However, he enjoyed a resurgence after his move to Atletico last year, raising hopes he could get another chance for Brazil.

But all that went down the drain in the frenzied atmosphere of the Stade de Marrakech.

“Of course, I’m dejected,” he told the Sportv network. “The expectations were huge. It’s been a marvellous year and we have gone down in the club’s history.

“This is tough; we’ll have to see what’s left for us.”

As he left the pitch, Ronaldinho was surrounded by admiring Raja Casablanca players, a sign of the adulation he still enjoys in many parts of the world, more about his past than the present.