Ronaldinho was at one point the greatest footballer on the planet. Stefan Kelly wonders if he’ll ever be that player again.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better return to the Brazilian league,” … “The focus is on winning the title, it’s a trophy I haven’t won it yet.”

These were the words used by the samba star upon his return to his homeland in the colours of Flamengo, Ronaldinho is clearly a man who does not lack ambition. However, his ambitions are not transferring to realities on the pitch at the Engenhao at the moment.

When using the phrase “be the same” I am not referring to the world-player of the year Ronaldinho but the player who can entice with his willingness, audaciousness and ability to mesmerize. It’s safe to say he hit the zenith of his career a long time ago, back in the days of linking up with Deco and Eto’o at Barca, but the rate at which it is collapsing is far too radical for a player of his quality. At the time of Pep Guardiola’s arrival, his off the pitch antics, poor performances and frequent injuries forced him to become the shadow of the man he previously was, this resulted in a switch to the San Siro.

At Milan he was a completely different player and was eventually shunned out to players like Pirlo and Seedorf amongst a,lot of younger talent, the San Siro was never going to be the place for him and therefore never was.

His profile remained extremely high throughout world football even after his move away from Barca. He remained one of Nike’s biggest assets and still managed to feature in their fabulous advert for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, this featured him using his talismanic skills to dance around defenders. It made him look like a god but the sad part of that story was that Dunga ended up not selecting the man dubbed “Player of the Decade”.

The following season at Milan was disappointing to say the least, in fact you could call it an absolute disaster for the Brazilian. His difficult adaptation to Italian football shone through, scoring 1 goal in 11 games and clearly lacking the pace that once made him so dangerous. Another move was needed for the once inhibited playmaker and the only way was down. Words can’t describe how happy I was when he decided to avoid a big-money move to Blackburn, watching him struggling to keep up with the pace and strength of the Premier League would depress me, in some ways it will forever make me remember Ronaldinho at his best when I think of the man. Instead he opted for the more romantic option, a homecoming to the nation that loved him for his samba style trickery and brashness, Brazil. He joined Flamengo after hometown club Gremio had to withdraw from the race for his signature as they lacked the necessary funds.

At the time of writing Ronaldinho has played 4 games, out of 8 shots has scored twice, and has laid on one assist

However, these are not telling half the story. Earlier this year Flamengo won the Rio State Championship aka the Carioca and to say Ronaldinho was disappointing would be an understatement, he seemed constantly uninspired and nowhere near living up to the inevitable hype surrounding him.

It’s fair to say Flamengo’s start to the Brasileirao has been an eventful one. Thiago Neves is quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and fans also mourned as Dejan “Rambo” (or “Pet”) Petkovic played his last game for Fla. Most importantly though to the fans and journalists alike, Ronaldinho has risen from the dead and seems to be, for the first time in years, brace yourself.. playing well.

His scintillating performance during Fla’s 4-0 crushing of Avai displayed to the world how he still has the potential the world saw at PSG all those years ago. Scoring one and setting up one, he undoubtedly made all the headlines. This looks like it might have not been a once-off performance as the next week, he once again looked inspired against Bahia and scored once more for the black and red of Flamengo.

It may be that we will have to wait for his retirement farewell game before we see him in the colours of Brazil again but signs of Ronaldinho redeeming himself don’t look too far away and I don’t think anyone wouldn’t want that to happen.

If you enjoyed Stefan’s article why not follow him on twitter – or visit his website The Midfield Diamond

 

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Another 4 games today and a bit of a shock, the reigning World Champions Italy are out, and 2 teams that failed to impress in their first game have advance, anything can happen at this World Cup.

SLOVAKIA

3

 

ITALY

2

Robert VITTEK (25′, 73′)     Antonio DI NATALE (81′)  
Kamil KOPUNEK (89′)     Fabio QUAGLIARELLA (90+2′)  
         
1.Jan MUCHA – Y     12.Federico MARCHETTI  
2.Peter PEKARIK – Y     3.Domenico CRISCITO OUT – 46
3.Martin SKRTEL     4.Giorgio CHIELLINI – Y  
5.Radoslav ZABAVNIK     5.Fabio CANNAVARO – C – Y  
6.Zdenko STRBA – Y OUT – 87   6.Daniele DE ROSSI  
11.Robert VITTEK – Y OUT – 92   7.Simone PEPE – Y  
15.Miroslav STOCH     8.Gennaro GATTUSO OUT – 46
16.Jan DURICA     9.Vincenzo IAQUINTA  
17.Marek HAMSIK – C     10.Antonio DI NATALE  
18.Erik JENDRISEK OUT – 94   19.Gianluca ZAMBROTTA  
19.Juraj KUCKA     22.Riccardo MONTOLIVO OUT – 56
         
Subs     Subs  
9.Stanislav SESTAK IN – 92   2.Christian MAGGIO IN – 46
20.Kamil KOPUNEK IN – 87   18.Fabio QUAGLIARELLA – Y IN – 46
22.Martin PETRAS IN – 94   21.Andrea PIRLO IN – 56

MY THOUGHTS

What a game this was Slovakia started well showing more pace to their passing than the first two games, and a bit of purpose to their play, Italy started poor, bad touches, wayward passes, looked a poor Italian side compared to sides of the past, and Slovakia took the lead a nice slide rule pass from Strba into Vittek and big Bob placed it in the only place Marchetti couldn’t save it, a dream start for Vladimir Weiss’s men.

Di Natale had a great chance to level it before half time but his shot was skewed wide, Lippi made changes Zambrotta and Quagiarella coming on and they made a impact, italy came out all guns blazing but couldn’t penetrate the Slovakia back line, Skrtel had a great game, entipified by his clearance of the line denying Italy a route back into the game, and then it was 2-0 a low cross from the right was turned in by Vittek for his 2rd of the tournament, Italian defenders slow to react to the danger and the big man put his country one step closer to the Last 16, Vittek was superb leading the line on his own helped out by Hamsik behind him and Stoch out wide.

With 35 minutes left Lippi played his last card, the mecurial Andrea Pirlo entered the game trying to find that killer pass and he improved the team with his range of passing, however it was Quagiarella that opened up the Slovaks his run from deep then the flick from Iaquinta put him in on goal, Mucha saved his shot but the rebound fell to Di Natale and he made no mistake. The Italians back in the game, and it should have got better, Pepe’s cross from the left was met by Quagiarella and he turned it past Mucha, the linesman had his flag up, Offside, I don’t agree, the rule states if you have any part of your body that can play the ball ahead of the defender your offside, to me Skrtel’s leg is behind Quagiarella’s header, the goal should have stood.

Slovakia then killed the game off, substitute Kopunek just on, ran from deep and caught the defence sleeping he met the throw in and placed it over Marchetti’s head a great finish for your first touch in a World Cup, the Slovak fans went mental, it wasn’t over though.

With 3 mintues another lifeline for the Italians the really impressive Quagiarella picked the ball up on the edge of the box and placed a delightful chip into the top corner over Mucha’s head a great goal, and begs the question why didn’t the Napoli striker appear earlier in this group he had a drive and a purpose and that touch of Italian class missing from the side, 3-2 and into injury time, would the reigning Champions get another chance.

Yes they would and it fell to Pepe, the ball came over from the right and Pepe who started on the right found space at the back post, he attacked the ball with his right foot and the great chance was lost as the ball went wide, surely if he had taken it with his left the Italians would have qualified, he didn’t and they have finished bottom of the group, a nightmare World Cup and proves the point….You never go back!!!

Slovakia will take on the Netherlands in the last 16, after watching the first 2 games you wouldn’t give them a chance, after watching this game, you never know what can happen.

PARAGUAY

0  

NEW ZEALAND

0
         
1.Justo VILLAR     1.Mark PASTON  
3.Claudio MOREL     3.Tony LOCHHEAD  
4.Denis CANIZA     4.Winston REID  
5.Julio Cesar CACERES     5.Ivan VICELICH  
7.Oscar CARDOZO OUT – 66   6.Ryan NELSEN  
9.Roque SANTA CRUZ – Y     7.Simon ELLIOT  
13.Enrique VERA     9.Shane SMELTZ  
14.Paulo DA SILVA     10.Chris KILLEN OUT – 79
15.Victor CACERES – Y     11.Leo BERTOS  
16.Cristian RIVEROS     14.Rory FALLON OUT – 69
18.Nelson VALDEZ OUT – 67   19.Tommy SMITH  
         
Subs     Subs  
19.Lucas BARRIOS IN – 66   20.Chris WOOD IN – 69
10.Edgar BENITEZ IN – 67   22.Jeremy BROCKIE IN – 79

MY THOUGHTS

Just watched the extended highlights of this game, didn’t seem the best game ever Paraguay doing enough to qualify, they were definitely the better team over the 90minutes, 35 year odl fullback Dennis Caniza seemed on a personal mission to score for his country firing 3 or 4 shots close to the top corner, New Zealand did a good defensively, limiting Paraguay to shots from long range, and with the struggles teams have had with the Jabulani ball that’s not a bad plan.

Riveros managed to flick a header towards goal in the second half that Mark Paston had to be lively to palm away, I have been impressed with Paston, not the first choice keeper, but he has shown to be very capable and a good shot stopper the Wellington Phoenix player although he’s 33 he might be watched by a few British teams.

I was disappointed with Oscar Cardozo, getting the start ahead of Lucas Barrios and from what they showed it looked like he didn’t get very involved, looks like he is still short of match fitness and that will be why Martino gave him the minutes, I will hope he shows more in the knockout phase.

New Zealand can go home with their heads held high after 3 games 3 points, much better than anyone had predicted, and only 1 goal away from going to the last 16, Paraguay move on to face Japan, which would see either team make it to the Quarter-Finals for the first time, lots to play for there.

DENMARK

1

 

JAPAN

3

Jon Dahl TOMASSON (81′)     Keisuke HONDA (17′)  
      Yashuito ENDO (30′)  
      Shinji OKAZAKI (87′)  
         
1.Thomas SORENSEN     1.Eiji KAWASHIMA  
2.Christian POULSEN – Y     2.Yuki ABE  
4.Daniel AGGER     3.Yuichi KOMANO  
6.Lars JACOBSEN     4.Marcus Tulio TANAKA  
9.Jon Dahl TOMASSON – C     5.Yuto NAGATOMO – Y  
10.Martin JORGENSEN OUT – 34   7.Yasuhito ENDO – Y OUT – 91
11.Nicklas BENDTNER – Y     8.Daisuke MATSUI OUT – 74
12.Thomas KAHLENBERG OUT – 63   16.Yoshito OKUBO OUT – 88
13.Per KROLDRUP – Y OUT – 56   17.Makoto HASEBE ©  
15.Simon POULSEN     18.Keisuke HONDA  
19.Dennis ROMMEDAHL     22.Yuji NAKAZAWA  
         
Subs     Subs  
14.Jakob POULSEN IN – 34   9.Shinji OKAZAKI IN – 74
18.Soren LARSEN IN – 56   15.Yasuyuki KONNO IN – 88
21.Christian ERIKSEN IN – 63   20.Junichi INAMOTO IN – 91

MY THOUGHTS

I choose this game to watch over Netherlands v Cameroon as I love a situation when both teams in the same game can seal their own fate, and that’s what we had, Japan v Denmark, winner takes it all.

Both teams started well, cagey but at the same time quite open, Japan took the game to the Danes Matsui and Hasebe creating half chances Hasebe’s shot narrowly going wide, Japan’s midfield has been superb this tournament Hasebe, Endo and Matsui working very hard but also have that creative edge you need to back up the talents of Honda, Okubo and Okazaki, and it was Honda that opened the scoring and in some style, a free kick 30 yards out, looked to far out to have a try, Keisuke Honda had different ideas, he smashed the ball into the far corner some movement on the ball but Sorensen should have done better, but no doubt a quality free-kick from the CSKA Moscow man.

13 minutes later Japan won another free-kick and Honda stood over it with Endo, everyones money on Honda having another go, with all eyes on Honday, Sorensen could only watch as Endo curled the ball round the wall and past the Stoke keeper into a dream 2-0 lead. Been really impressed with Endo midfield qualties nice to see him showing a danger from set-pieces too.

Japan were in control and heading the second round, Denmark needing something to spark them into action, help cam in the form of 19-year old midfielder Christian Eriksen, showing sme industry in the midfield he had a shot sail narrowly over the bar, the lifeline came with 9 minutes to go Hasebe bundled into the back of Agger and the referee pointed to the spot, Jon Dahl Tomasson stepped up trying to equal a record 52 goals for his country, poor penalty saved by Kawashima the ball rolled back to Tomasson and his second attempt although unconvincing just made it into the net.

The come back was short lived though, the superb Honda danced into the box, a superb turn past the defender, he then slipped the ball to Okazaki and he tapped it into the empty net, sealed Japan’s qualification and sent the Samirai Blue fans into delirium.

Japan will face Paraguay in the 2nd round and you would have to say they have a chance to make the quarters if they perform like todays match, Honda the man to stop.

CAMEROON

1

 

NETHERLANDS

2

Samuel ETO’O (65′ PEN)     Robin VAN PERSIE (36′)  
      Klass Jan HUNTELAAR (83′)  
         
16.Hamidou SOULEYMANOU     1.Maarten STEKELENBERG  
2.Benoit ASSOU-EKOTTO     3.John HEITINGA  
3.Nicolas N’KOULOU – Y OUT – 73   4.Joris MATHIJSEN  
7.Landry N’GUEMO     5.Giovanni VAN BRONCKHORST – C – Y  
8.GEREMI     6.Mark VAN BOMMEL  
9.Samuel ETO’O     7.Dirk KUYT – Y OUT – 66
11.Jean MAKOUN     8.Nigel DE JONG  
12.Gaetan BONG OUT- 56   9.Robin VAN PERSIE OUT – 59
13.Eric CHOUPO-MOTING OUT – 72   10.Wesley SNEIJDER  
14.Aurelien CHEDJOU     12.Khalid BOULAHROUZ  
19.Stephane M’BIA – Y     23.Rafael VAN DER VAART – Y OUT – 73
         
Subs     Subs  
4.Rigobert SONG IN – 73   11.Arjen ROBBEN IN – 73
17.Mohamadou IDRISSOU IN – 72   17.Eljero ELIA IN – 66
23.Vicent ABOUBAKAR IN – 56   21.Klass Jan HUNTELAAR IN – 59

MY THOUGHTS

I have not had chance to watch the Holland v Cameroon highlights yet, and my system at work can’t play videos from BBC website which is highly annoying, good victory for Netherlands and they progress with a 100% record and win the group, I will add some more thoughts later when I see the game.

They will play Slovakia in the 2nd round, and they are heavy favourites to progress from that, is this Hollands year to finally win the biggest prize?

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Really enjoyed the games today well except the Holland game, but we had a mixture of European technique, Asian organisation and African spirit, coming together in an enjoyable day of football, it was also a very momentous day, as I managed to predict the correct score in a game for the first time in the tournament, much to Cameroon’s disgust, oh and I’ve seen 3 examples today that show that there is bugger all wrong with the Jabulani ball, Sneijder’s shot, Bresciano’s free kick and Kjaer’s 60 yard pass. 

NETHERLANDS

1

 

JAPAN

0

Wesley SNEIJDER (53′)        
         
1.Maarten STEKELENBERG     1.Eiji KAWASHIMA  
2.Gregory VAN DER WIEL – Y     2.Yuki ABE  
3.John HEITINGA     3.Yuichi KOMANO  
4.Joris MATHIJSEN     4.Marcus Tulio TANAKA  
5.Giovanni VAN BRONCKHORST     5.Yuto NAGATOMO  
6.Mark VAN BOMMEL     7.Yasuhito ENDO  
7.Dirk KUYT     8.Daisuke MATSUI OUT – 64
8.Nigel DE JONG     16.Yoshito OKUBO OUT – 77
9.Robin VAN PERSIE OUT – 88   17.Makoto HASEBE © OUT – 77
10.Wesley SNEIJDER OUT – 83   18.Keisuke HONDA  
23.Rafael VAN DER VAART OUT – 72   22.Yuji NAKAZAWA  
         
Subs     Subs  
17.Eljero ELIA IN – 72   9.Shinji OKAZAKI IN – 77
20.Ibrahim AFELLAY IN – 83   10.Shunsuke NAKAMURA IN – 64
21.Klass Jan HUNTELAAR IN – 88   11.Keiji TAMADA IN – 77

MY THOUGHTS: 

Not the best of matches to watch from a neutral point of view, Japan played to stifle the Dutch attack, when defending they had 10 men behind the ball, and the Dutch looked nervous to attack in numbers so not to be caught on the break and that stopped the game really going anywhere in the first half.  

The best thing that happened in the second half was Sneijder’s goal, a superb strike a rocket from the edge of the box, it may have moved in the air, the keeper Kawashima got a hand to it, but he couldn’t stop it bulging in the back of the net, this opened the game up, Japan came out and tried to attack.  

Matsui was the most inventive looking of the Japanese side, good on the ball, looks to pick a good pass and him, Honda and Okubo again worked tirelessly but never really threatened the goal, Endo played great in the middle of the park charging down the ball, and controlling the play, another player that impressed was the young fullback Nagatomo had a good game charging down the left wing all game, never really got caught out defensively and had a good chance to score when he cut inside and had a shot in goal. The other dangerous player was the centre back Tulio Tanaka every set-piece Japan had he more often or not won the ball and just couldn’t get an attempt on target, the Dutch defence seemed to struggle against his height.  

From the first half performance you would say they would struggle to beat Denmark, but from the 2nd half showing, you would give them a chance, they could have snatched a point if Okazaki cold have kept his shot on the turn down and troubled Stekelenburg.  

Wasn’t impressed by the Dutch today, noone really to pick out, good goal from Sneijder, no real chances to speak of until the subs Elia and Affelay came on, it was the Hamburg man that found the PSV man and Affellay chased through on goal and was 1 on 1 with Kawashima and the Japanese keeper made a good save.  

GHANA

1

 

AUSTRALIA

1

Asamoah GYAN (25′ PEN)     Brett HOLMAN (11′)  
         
22.Richard KINGSON     1.Mark SCHWARZER  
2.Hans SARPEI     2.Lucas NEILL  
3.Asamoah GYAN     3.Craig MOORE - Y  
4.John PANTSIL     5.Jason CULINA  
6.Anthony ANNAN - Y     7.Brett EMERTON  
8.Jonathan MENSAH - Y     8.Luke WILKSHERE  OUT – 84
12.Prince TAGOE OUT – 56   10.Harry KEWELL - R  
13.Andre AYEW     14.Brett HOLMAN  OUT -  68
19.Lee ADDY - Y     16.Carl VALERI  
21.Kwadwo ASAMOAH OUT – 77   21.David CARNEY  
23.Kevin Prince BOATENG OUT – 87   23.Mark BRESCIANO  OUT – 66
         
Subs     Subs  
20.Quincy OWUSU-ABYIE IN – 56   11.Scott CHIPPERFIELD IN – 66
11.Sulley MUNTARI IN – 77   9.Joshua KENNEDY IN – 68
14.Matthew AMOAH IN – 87   17.Nikita RUKAVYTSYA IN – 84

MY THOUGHTS: 

3 points for Ghana and they are all but through, and 3 points for Australia and the group is wide open, I had thought it would be a tight game and I wasn’t wrong, the Aussie’s started so well, an early free kick, Bresciano dipped it over the wall, Kingson fumbled the ball and Brett Holman was the quickest to react and he put it past the Ghanian keeper.  

The great start was followed up by a nightmare moment, the ball dropped to Asamoah Gyan in the Australian’s box he thumped a shot towards goal and standing on the goalline was Harry Kewell andhis arm stopped the ball, the referee had no choice but to send him off, disaster for the Socceroos, the dream start was over and they didn’t really recover till the 2nd half.  

Moore and Neill had a good game at the back, coping well with the pace and power of Gyan and Ayew, Carney looked bright in the first half trying to get to the byline I like his industry.  

Australia improved in the second half when Kennedy and Chipperfield came on with 20 minutes to go, creating more problems for the young Ghana defence but they couldn’t capatilise on the inexperience defensive duo.  

Australia have 1 point and need to beat Serbia and hope Germany beat Ghana by a bigger scoreline than their lose, it doesn’t look likely.  

Ghana played a decent match, has to be said Addy and Jonathan 18 caps between them although at times showed their youth but they handled most things that were thrown their way, Tagoe, Boateng and Asamoah had quite quiet games and apart from Boateng’s shot in the first half there was not much else to note from the trio, Gyan had a great game, using all his strengths and attributes, his power and pace cause numerous problems and maybe with more experience he would have cause more problems.  

Ghana should have capatilised on the fact Australia had 10 men for best part of an hour, they should have won this game and will be disappointed with the point, but qualification is in their hands.  

CAMEROON

1

 

DENMARK

2

Samuel ETO’O (10′)     Nicholas BENDTNER (33′)  
      Dennis ROMMEDAHL (61′)  
         
16.Hamidou SOULEYMANOU     1.Thomas SORENSEN – Y  
2.Benoit ASSOU-EKOTTO     2.Christian POULSEN  
3.Nicolas N’KOULOU     3.Simon KJAER - Y  
5.Sebastien BASSONG - Y OUT – 72   4.Daniel AGGER  
6.Alexander SONG     6.Lars JACOBSEN  
8.GEREMI     8.Jesper GRONKJAER OUT – 67
9.Samuel ETO’O     9.Jon Dahl TOMASSON OUT – 86
10.Achille EMANA     10.Martin JORGENSEN OUT – 46
15.Pierre WEBO OUT – 78   11.Nicolas BENDTNER  
18.Eyong ENOH OUT – 46   15.Simon POULSEN  
19.Stephane M’BIA - Y     19.Dennis ROMMEDAHL  
         
Subs     Subs  
11.Jean MAKOUN IN – 46   7.Daniel JENSEN IN – 46
17.Mohamadou IDRISSOU IN – 72   12.Thomas KAHLENBERG IN – 67
23.Vicent ABOUBAKAR IN – 78   14.Jakob POULSEN IN – 86

MY THOUGHTS:

The weight of a continent lay on the shoulders of the Cameroon players today, lose and they become they first team to be elimanated from the competition, and what a start they had, a lose pass from the Danes, Emana found Eto’o in the box and he made no mistake putting Cameroon 1-0 up, this was as good as it go though 80 mins later and it’s an early exit for Le Guen’s men. 

Some of the team played well, Eto’o was busy and dangerous, justifying his move to the centre of the attack, always dangerous and more like the Samuel Eto’o we know and love, his foil was Achille Emana he too played really well, floating round the pitch linking up with Eto’o and Webo, he had a chance to level the game when he went through on goal, but couldn’t finish it off, if only both had played in these positions against Japan. 

For the players that played well a could played pretty bad, Assou-Ekotto had an awful game getting pulled out of position on many an occasion and with the dangerous Rommedahl exploiting the space he left caused Cameroon the 2nd goal, Song and Enoh were too quiet, the latter was pulled off at half-time. 

Such a shame for the competition that Cameroon are going home but if they had showed this level of commiment and adventure in the first game they would probably still be in the competition. 

The Danes faced the do or die game tonight and took it by the horns after going a ball behind they played really well, Rommedahl was a constant threat down the right, still showing he has the pace to play at the highest level, collecting a lovely 60 yard pass from Kjaer he then found Bendtner in the box for the equaliser, he then took advantage of Assou-Ekotto’s attacking desire by breaking down the right, cutting inside Makoun and placing a lovely left-footed shot past Souleymanou, Kjaer, Agger, Jacobsen and Poulsen were good in defence, as much as Cameroon’s strikers cause problems the defence never looked stretched, I wouldn’t say it was one of Bendtner’s best games, good finish for the goal, but quiet apart from that. 

The Danes played well, much better than the first game, they now face a winner takes it all game with Japan and they showed enough about them to think they could beat the Japanese, will be an interesting game.

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