Ronaldo: The truth over 1998 World Cup final collapse from the Brazilian legend himself

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
6 Min Read

At the cusp of the 1998 World Cup final, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, known simply as Ronaldo, was the undisputed king of the beautiful game. His meteoric rise to fame with PSV, Barcelona, and then Inter Milan had seen him net an astounding 34 goals in his debut season in Italy. His performance in France ’98 had also been nothing short of spectacular. Four goals, including a crucial penalty in the semi-final shootout against the Netherlands, had propelled Brazil to the championship showdown. Ronaldo was on top of the world.

However, what unfolded on that fateful night in Saint-Denis left the world baffled and ignited a whirlwind of conspiracy theories. The shockwaves of Ronaldo’s sudden absence from the starting lineup in the World Cup final against France, only to be reinstated moments before kickoff, left viewers and commentators scratching their heads.

Ronaldo Reveals What Happened

In an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo, Ronaldo finally reveals the truth behind that perplexing episode, shedding light on the baffling turn of events. “I decided to get some rest after lunch, and the last thing I remember was going to bed,” Ronaldo reminisces. “After that, I had a convulsion. I was surrounded by players, and the late Dr. Lidio Toledo was there. They didn’t want to tell me what was going on.”

Ronaldo, on the brink of football immortality, was grappling with a sudden and unexplained medical crisis. “I asked if they could leave and go talk somewhere else because I wanted to sleep,” Ronaldo continues. “Then Leonardo asked me to go for a walk in the garden in the hotel where we were staying and explained the whole situation. I was told that I wouldn’t play in the World Cup final.”

Ronaldo won the Ballon D’Or in 1997.

Yet, despite the mysterious convulsion, all the crucial medical examinations showed nothing was amiss. Dr. Toledo himself gave the green light for Ronaldo to play. Armed with these results and an indomitable spirit, Ronaldo confronted Coach Mario Zagallo. “I approached Zagallo at the stadium and said: ‘I’m fine. I’m not feeling anything. Here are the test results, they’re fine. I want to play.’ I didn’t give him an alternative. He had no choice and accepted my decision,” Ronaldo asserts.

And play he did, but not at his best. The convulsion had cast a shadow over Ronaldo’s performance, and the ramifications were profound. Brazil’s loss to France was heavy; many believed Ronaldo’s inclusion might have adversely affected the entire team. It was a nightmarish chapter in an otherwise illustrious career.

Conspiracy Theories Were Rampant

Conspiracy theories spread like wildfire in the wake of the incident. Some alleged that Nike, the sportswear giant, orchestrated Ronaldo’s dramatic return to the lineup, given their close association with the Brazilian football federation and Ronaldo himself. However, both Nike and Zagallo strongly denied any such influence.

Yet, the enigma endured. A parliamentary inquiry commission in 2000 aimed to uncover the truth behind Ronaldo’s sudden reinstatement but ultimately closed without definitive answers. Rumours of a behind-the-scenes power struggle within the team between those who supported Ronaldo’s presence and those who opposed it only fueled the flames of speculation.

Even more outlandish theories emerged. An alleged email from a TV Globo source suggested that Brazil “sold” the World Cup to FIFA for a hefty cash fee, orchestrating a French victory to appease FIFA’s new president, Sepp Blatter. The promise of future World Cups and a softer path to victory in 2002 was supposedly the reward. This theory, of course, raises more eyebrows than it answers.

The teamsheet before the game shocked football fans all over the World.

Another bizarre theory, courtesy of the outspoken pundit Jorge Kajuru, posited that Ronaldo’s breakdown resulted from an allergic reaction to a knee injection administered by Dr. Toledo. While this theory borders on the absurd, it underscores the vacuum of clarity that has surrounded the entire incident.

Incredibly, rumours even ventured into the realm of a sex scandal involving Ronaldo’s then-girlfriend and a Brazilian TV journalist. These claims, though far-fetched, illustrate the lengths to which some were willing to go to unravel the mystery.

The aftermath also cast shadows over the contract between the Brazilian FA and Nike, sparking more speculation about the sporting giant’s role in Ronaldo’s return. In the end, the matter was inconclusive, with politicians seeking answers but finding none.

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