| Ronaldo and Rivaldo at a national team training session in Teresopolis on Thursday. Brazil play Colombia in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday
Teresopolis (Brazil): Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who has been to three World Cups, is set to play his first Cup qualifying game as the five-time champions begin the defence of their crown away to Colombia on Sunday.
“It’s interesting because it’s different from anything I’ve taken part in during my international career,” he said.
“But I’ve played against South American teams before and played in the Copa America outside Brazil. I know how difficult it can be and that’s why we have to prepare well and qualify as quickly as possible.”
Brazil’s next match is at home, against Ecuador on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old Real Madrid striker was included in the Brazil squad which won the 1994 World Cup when he was 17, although he did not play.
He was then a spearhead of the Brazil team which finished runners-up at France ’98 and was top-scorer as the South Americans won their fifth world title last year in Japan and South Korea.
But he has never experienced the tension of a South American qualifier.
Brazil qualified automatically for the 1998 World Cup as defending champions and Ronaldo missed the qualifiers for 2002 when he was plagued with his knee injuries.
Brazil struggled without their top player, using four coaches and losing six matches before finally clinching their place in the 2002 finals with a 3-0 win over Venezuela in their last match.
This time, Brazil have to go through the qualifying even though they are defending champions after a change in the Fifa rules. They will play 18 matches between this weekend and November 2005.
“This game against Colombia is going to be very difficult,” said Ronaldo.
“We have to forget everything that happened in the last qualifiers and give it everything we have this time.” He added: “I’m still ambitious even after so much success.”
Meanwhile, Brazil’s physical trainer has criticised Real Madrid’s pre-season programme, expressing his worry over the fitness of Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo.
“They had a bad pre-season and have only played two games so far,” Moracy Sant’Anna said on Thursday, referring to Real Madrid’s tour to the Far East. “They travelled to Asia and that wasted most of their pre-season.”
Sant’anna said he was more worried about Ronaldo, who missed training on Wednesday after complaining of back pains, but took part as usual on Thursday.
“Ronaldo’s the one who needs more care,” Sant’anna said. “If we had more time to do specific work with him, we would.”
The trainer also expressed concern at the fact that Brazil’s squad were at different levels of fitness.
“We have some players here in Brazil who are more than halfway through the season and the majority have come from Europe, where the season is starting with differences from one country to another,” he said.
Following a new rule the world champions will also have to play the qualifiers.