Ronaldinho’s hopes that a good performance at the Club World Cup might earn a Brazil recall have been dashed by Atletico Mineiro’s elimination at the hands of Raja Casablanca.
The ever-grinning former World Player of the Year gave 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 Brazilian 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 cheeky dribble on the byline and was easily dispossessed.
With the 2014 World Cup on the horizon, Ronaldinho had been hoping to earn another chance by leading Atletico to the title in the final against Bayern Munich.
“I’m just thinking about Atletico. I want to make the fans happy, represent my country and my club,” he had said on Monday.
“Everyone knows what I’ve achieved but I want to prove that I’m in good form and to reach the highest point 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 quicker than expected and scored two goals for Atletico as he returned on the final day of the season.
He has enjoyed resurgence after his move to Atletico last year, raising hopes that he could get another chance for Brazil, but all that went down the drain at the Stade de Marrakech.
As he trooped dejectedly off the pitch, Ronaldinho was surrounded by admiring Raja Casablanca players, a sign of the adulation he still enjoys in many parts of the world but is more a sign of his past than his present.
Atletico Mineiro coach Cuca apologised to the 10,000 fans who made the long and costly trek from Brazil after Wednesday’s defeat thatcost them a dream tie against Bayern Munich.
“Almost everyone played badly,” Cuca said after his side were left with the prospect of a third place playoff against Guangzhou Evergrande.
“We have to apologise to our fans. We have to lift ourselves quickly no matter how difficult that seems.
“This was the most important game of the season. It’s tough to be sitting here justifying this performance, but that’s part of our lives in football. I’ve come here to face the music.”