| Ronaldinho’s return paves way for reunion of ‘three Rs’
Montevideo: Brazil will be determined to make sure they do not slip up against Ecuador on Wednesday in the Amazonian city of Manaus in their latest 2006 World Cup qualifier after beating Colombia in their opener at the weekend.
Such was the joy that the reigning title-holders had got over a difficult opening match in contrast to the disastrous start they made to their campaign to qualify for the 2002 finals that 5,000 fans welcomed them back from Colombia.
Ronaldo, who scored the first goal in the 2-1 win in Barranquilla, took ten minutes to walk the 20m from the arrival hall at the airport.
A bonus for the Brazilians this time is that the Real Madrid ace is fit and well, they sorely missed him in the 2002 qualifiers when his long-running right knee problems ruled him out, though he returned to devastating effect for the finals.
One good new for Brazil is that Ronaldinho is set to return for Wednesday’s match after the Colombia game through suspension.
The Barcelona forward’s comeback will allow coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to return to the ‘three Rs’ attack favoured by his predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari at last year’s World Cup.
The difficulty for Parreira could be in deciding whom to leave out after a convincing performance against in Colombia.
Brazil, who trained in front of a 15,000 crowd at the Vivaldao stadium in the Amazon port city of Manaus on Monday, used six midfielders against Colombia, Alex, Ze Roberto, Emerson and Gilberto, who all started, and substitutes Kaka and Renato.
All performed well, although AS Roma’s Emerson is the least popular with the Brazilian media. One of them, however, will have to make way, assuming that Rivaldo, who is a reserve at AC Milan and looked short of match fitness on Sunday, keeps his place in the team.
Ecuador, whose appearance in Japan and South Korea last year was their first at a World Cup finals, began with a 2-0 home win over Venezuela on Saturday and are in confident mood.
Their success in qualifying, which included a first-ever win over Brazil on the way, has provided an enormous boost to the self-confidence of a team which until recently had a reputation for taking the field with the idea they were going to lose.
“We’re going to try and win,” said Ecuador’s Colombian coach Hernan Dario Gomez, a stalwart of World Cup qualifying campaigns. “Brazil are a great team but I have a great team as well. Ecuador can produce surprises.”
Parreira, however, said he expected an ultra-defensive approach from the visitors. “We have to be prepared to face, once again, a very defensive team and we’ll need to be very patient,” he warned.
Ecuador will be without 35-year-old captain Alex Aguinaga who limped out of the match against Venezuela before half-time after taking a knock on the knee. The Ecuador Football Federation (FEF) said that Aguinaga, who has more than 100 caps, will be out of action for around ten days.
Venezuela are the only side from the region never to reach football’s showpiece event.
Paraguay host Uruguay in Asuncion on Wednesday with Bayern Munich’s Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz calling on his team to pull their socks up after the weekend’s debacle.
Paraguay lost 1-4 to Peru in Lima on Saturday and Santa Cruz was not happy.
Uruguay, meanwhile, are on a high having beaten Bolivia 5-0 in Montevideo in their opener.
Meanwhile, Argentina play Venezuela in Caracas after throwing a two-goal lead against Chile to draw 2-2 in Buenos Aires.
Coach Marcelo Bielsa is under renewed pressure following that debacle and last year’s humiliating, first-round exit at the World Cup finals. (Agencies)