It still hurts for England fans to think about that Ronaldinho goal.
It was a moment that sent Brazil into the World Cup semi-finals, knocked the Three Lions out of the tournament and launched a promising 22-year-old playmaker from Porto Alegre into superstardom. After that, nothing would ever be the same for Ronaldinho.
Let’s wind the clock back 20 years. On the morning of June 21, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side were hoping to beat Brazil rather than expecting. The Three Lions boasted a fabulous team containing the likes of Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, Michael Owen – yet they were nowhere near as glamorous as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s future champions.
Every now and again, a Brazilian outfit emerges that’s incomparable with the rest. This was certainly one of those teams as the likes Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Gilberto Silva and Ronaldo – not to be confused with a Manchester United legend – inspired the South America nation to their fifth and most recent World Cup crown in South Korea and Japan.
But for a brief moment during the quarter-final in Fukuroi, there was a feeling England could pull off a shock. Owen pounced on an uncharacteristic mistake from Bayer Leverkusen centre-back Lucio to make it 1-0 to the underdogs in the first half.
The Three Lions had enjoyed a solid tournament leading into the game. They’d progressed through a tricky group – knocking out Argentina in the process to avenge their defeat by them from four years earlier – and hammered Denmark 3-0 in the last 16.
Was Ronaldinho’s goal against England a fluke? Let us know in the comments below!
Brazil, meanwhile, had won all of their four games before facing England, scoring 13 goals and conceding just three. Eriksson’s side could take a lot of confidence from establishing the lead in the last-eight clash – even if Rivaldo equalised just before the interval.
At that stage, England were just 45 minutes (or a bit longer depending on extra-time and penalties) from a semi-final against Turkey – a game they would’ve been favourites to win. Yet their hopes came crashing down when Ronaldinho placed the ball 40 yards from goal.
He was expected to whip it into the middle of the box for a compatriot to attack. But the Brazilian curled an effort into the top corner – chipping an unsuspected David Seaman – to score one of the most iconic goals in World Cup history. The millions watching around the world couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Ronaldinho went on to receive a red card against England for a stamp on Danny Mills – adding to his maverick reputation – but that didn’t matter as it finished 2-1 to Brazil. A 1-0 win against Turkey followed before they defeated Germany 2-0 in the final in Yokohama.
Ronaldinho, then a Paris Saint-Germain star, later played for the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan and won everything in the game – including the Copa America, Confederations Cup, La Liga (twice), Serie A, Copa Libertadores, Champions League and the Ballon d’Or.
Yet fans have always questioned whether he meant to chip Seaman. “When I hit the ball I wanted to shoot for goal – but maybe not exactly where the ball ended up,” Ronaldinho told FIFA. “If I’m being totally honest, I was aiming for the other side of the net.”
He added: “You can’t say that [it was a fluke] because I was aware of the ‘keeper’s position and went for the shot at goal. The fact that it did not go in exactly as I planned is secondary to the fact that I was having a go.
“What basically happened is that I hit my shot too hard and, as it travelled through the air, it swerved more and ended up looping over Seaman. There was nothing he could do about it and I suppose there was an element of luck involved… but a goal is a goal!”
After all, that wasn’t the first time Seaman was caught out from distance. In the Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1995, the Arsenal stopper was famously lobbed by Nayim to hand underdogs Real Zaragoza a shock European title in Paris.
England players, however, still maintain the goal was a fluke. “It’s just a shame that a goal like that has sent us out of the tournament,” said Teddy Sheringham. Sol Campbell called it “fluky”, while England skipper David Beckham told reporters: “It was not his [Seaman’s] fault. The goal was a fluke. It was a cross that ended up being a goal.”
Mills, meanwhile, said: “I will never accept that it was intentional. Rio [Ferdinand] asked Ronaldinho after the game if he meant to shoot and he just gave a shrug and grinned. His sheepishness suggests to me that it was a misguided cross.”
Maybe it’s easier for Englishmen to believe Ronaldinho’s goal was a fluke, yet it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the World Cup winners’ medal he boasts – something every England player since 1966 has craved. Could the Class of ’22 finally end the nation’s long wait in Qatar later this year? Perhaps they’ll need a fluky goal of their own to achieve it.