Ronaldo has hailed Inter's capture of Romelu Lukaku and believes the partnership with Lautaro Martinez will be "almost perfect".

Belgian striker Lukaku returns to Inter following a disappointing season with Chelsea, where he fell down Thomas Tuchel's pecking order following an interview where he expressed his desire to rejoin the Nerazzurri.

That move materialised in the current window, with Lukaku arriving on loan, having struck 30 goals across all competitions during Inter's Serie A title-winning 2020-21 campaign.

Ronaldo believes Inter would have defended their title if Lukaku had remained at the club last season, when Milan narrowly pipped them to the crown, and rates him as a "guarantee" to shine in the upcoming campaign.

"It will be a good fight between Inter and Juve. I don't see Milan as the favourite, even if whoever wins the Scudetto can never be considered out of the race. Inter could have won last year, Juve can't afford another wrong year," Brazil great Ronaldo told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Lukaku and Lautaro can be an almost perfect pairing. A lot of feeling, a lot of goals: things that are good for a team."

"Inter lost the Scudetto by losing the derby and mishandling the only two months of difficulty of the season. It's in those moments that you need courage, to win complicated games instead of drawing them. You need to cling to someone: clinging to someone as big as Lukaku is easier."

Ronaldo, who played for Inter from 1997 to 2002, also shared his thoughts on the situation with Paulo Dybala, who was heavily linked to the Nerazzurri following the end of his contract with Juventus but eventually joined Roma.

"In football you can't always do what you want, and maybe you want a certain thing, but you set yourself limits," Ronaldo said.

Inter's rejuvenation of their attack is set to continue with the departure of Alexis Sanchez, who is widely reported to have agreed to terminate his contract at San Siro.

A move to French outfit Marseille has been mooted for the former Arsenal and Manchester United forward.

June 30, 2002, Yokohama. Ronaldo pounces on Rivaldo's dummy to side-foot past Germany's Oliver Kahn, becoming just the ninth man to score twice in a World Cup final and making Brazil champions of the world.

That moment, the pinnacle of the legendary forward's career, remains unmatched to this day for the Selecao, with Brazil failing to add to their five World Cup crowns in the subsequent two decades.

Should Brazil fall short of glory in Qatar later this year, that drought will stretch to at least 24 years, matching their longest wait for World Cup glory since their maiden title in 1958 (also between 1970 and 1994).

For a country whose hopes have been entrusted to such footballing icons as Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar in subsequent years, such a drought seems inexplicable, with three quarter-final exits and one historic semi-final humiliation the sum of their efforts since 2002. 

Exactly 20 years on from Brazil's triumph in Japan and South Korea, Stats Perform looks back on that momentous success, questions why it is yet to be repeated, and asks whether Tite's class of 2022 are equipped to bring glory to one of the world's most football-mad nations.

2002: Irresistible Ronaldo fires Selecao to glory in Japan and South Korea

It is no exaggeration to say Brazil's last World Cup win was one of the most impressive triumphs in the competition's history.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's men went from strength to strength after requiring a late Rivaldo penalty to edge a tense opener against eventual third-placed finishers Turkey, winning all seven of their games by an aggregate score of 18-4.

The class of 2002 thus hold the record for the most games won by a nation at a single World Cup, with Ronaldo – coming off an injury-blighted four seasons at Inter in which he managed just 36 Serie A appearances – the star of the show.

Partnering Rivaldo and supplied by Paris Saint-Germain's breakout star Ronaldinho, O Fenomeno netted eight goals across the tournament, the joint-most of any Brazilian at a single World Cup and the highest tally of anyone since West Germany's Gerd Muller struck 10 times in 1970.

 

Ronaldo's 19 shots on target in the tournament has not been matched in any subsequent World Cup, while his total of 34 attempts was more than five different nations managed. 

Quarter-final opponents England, vanquished when Ronaldinho audaciously (perhaps fortuitously) lobbed David Seaman from long-range, were the only side to keep Ronaldo out as he took the competition by storm.

A 25-year-old Ronaldo's final double against Germany represented his 44th and 45th international goals in just his 64th Brazil appearance. He managed just 17 further strikes in the famous yellow shirt during his career.

There was nothing in the 2002 squad's make-up to suggest a long wait for further tournament success was imminent: The experienced Cafu (31 in 2002) and Roberto Carlos (29) were still around in 2006, while future Ballon d'Or winners Ronaldinho (22) and Kaka (20) had their whole careers ahead of them.

How, then, did one of the greatest sides in modern international history contrive to fall so far short in subsequent World Cups?

 

2006-2010: Zidane and Sneijder sparkle as drab Brazil fall short

Brazil looked set for another shot at glory in Germany in 2006. Ronaldinho was crowned the world's best player in 2005; Kaka was to follow in his footsteps in 2007; and Ronaldo had hit a century of goals in his first four seasons with Real Madrid.

Brazil conceded just once in group-stage clashes with Croatia, Australia and Japan before crushing Ghana 3-0 in the last 16, but with Carlos Alberto Parreira cramming his three attacking stars into a rigid 4-4-2 shape, it was France who more closely resembled the Brazil sides of old in the last eight. 

Zinedine Zidane's performance in Frankfurt stands as one of the finest in the competition's history, as he tormented the defending champions' flat midfield before assisting Thierry Henry's winner.

It was the first of two masterful midfield displays to end the World Cup hopes of drab Brazil teams, with Wesley Sneijder assuming Zidane's role as the Netherlands vanquished Dunga's men in South Africa in 2010.

Progressing from the group stages has not been an issue for Brazil. Astonishingly, they are unbeaten in their last 15 group games, last suffering a first-stage defeat against Norway in 1998.

A lack of tactical nous against the world's best, however, has been a legitimate charge, and an understandable one given the identities of some of their head coaches.

Parreira's one Brazilian top-flight title was won way back in 1984, while Dunga's only club-level experience remains, to this day, a dire 2013 campaign with Internacional.

In that context, the return of Scolari, the emergence of Neymar and a home World Cup lifted expectations to monumental levels by 2014, when Brazilian dreams were to be shattered in the most incredible manner imaginable.

2014-2018: Home humiliation and Neymar reliance see Brazilian woes continue

The 2014 World Cup was billed as a festival of football, lit up by jubilant Brazilian crowds and thrilling football – the 171 goals scored across the tournament are the joint-most on record, alongside 1998.

Sadly for Brazil, eventual winners Germany provided 18 of those, with seven coming in a scarcely believable semi-final rout at the Mineirao.

Having gone 5-0 down within 29 minutes in the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva, Scolari's men collapsed to arguably the greatest humiliation in World Cup history and, as almost goes without saying, the heaviest semi-final defeat the tournament has ever seen.

Only when Yugoslavia faced Zaire in 1974 had a side previously been 5-0 up after 29 minutes at a World Cup, but for all the excitement building around the host nation, Brazil's class of 2014 always appeared flawed.

An over-reliance on Neymar – cruelly sidelined by a dreadful quarter-final challenge from Colombia's Juan Camilo Zuniga – was clear in both 2014 and 2018, when Brazil fell to a 2-1 defeat to a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Belgium in Russia.

 

Across those two tournaments, Neymar's six goals and two assists saw him directly involved in 42 per cent of Brazil's goals.

Fluminense striker Fred, ridiculed by many for his performances in 2014, wasn't exactly up to the task of replacing his goal threat, while Gabriel Jesus failed to find the net despite starting every match under Tite in 2018.

Indeed, coming into the 2018 tournament, Neymar – with 55 goals in 85 caps, was the only player in the Brazil squad to have scored more than 12 international goals.

Having achieved the rare feat of holding onto his job after leading Brazil at a World Cup, Tite will hope the emergence of several other stars lessens the burden on his number 10 this time around.

The road to Qatar: Can the class of 2022 end World Cup drought? 

Assuming he remains in charge when they face Serbia on November 24, Tite will become the first coach to lead Brazil at back-to-back World Cups since Tele Santana in 1982 and 1986.

While neither of Santana's campaigns ended in glory, the current boss – a Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup winner – will hope his six years moulding the side will prove invaluable in Qatar.

Brazil have already ended one mini trophy drought under his watch, winning a first Copa America title in 12 years on home soil in 2019 before finishing as runners-up to Argentina two years later.

Most impressively, Brazil triumphed without the injured Neymar in 2019 as Everton Soares top-scored, and the form of a series of Selecao stars has given Tite enviable squad depth.

In Allison and Ederson, he can choose between arguably the top two goalkeepers in the Premier League, while Fabinho was crucial as Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool fell narrowly short of a historic quadruple last term.

Casemiro, who won his fifth Champions League title with Madrid in May, could partner him in a fearsome midfield duo, but most of the excitement is centred on his club team-mate Vinicius Junior, whose 22 goals and 16 assists for Los Blancos last term suggest he can be the man to dovetail with Neymar.

 

After landing an appealing group-stage draw alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon, the excitement around Brazil is building once more.

With the Selecao topping the FIFA World Rankings, having fairly recent a Copa America win under their belts and possessing some of European football's most-effective players, 2022 seems as good a time as any for Brazil to end 20 years of disappointment and bring 'o Jogo Bonito' to the world once more.

Antonio Rudiger described the prospect of playing under Carlo Ancelotti as an "honour" after leaving Chelsea to join Real Madrid on a free transfer, as he targeted winning another Champions League title.

Rudiger signed a four-year contract with Madrid earlier this month, with his and Aurelien Tchouameni's arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu already making for a significant transfer window.

He joins a side which has just won La Liga and the Champions League – the latter for a record-extending 14th time, while boss Ancelotti became the first coach to be crowned European champion on four occasions with last month's final win over Liverpool. 

Rudiger, who was instrumental as Chelsea won European football's premier competition in 2021, believes working under the Italian can help him reach those heights once more.

"It's an honour to play for Carlo Ancelotti," he told the club's website. "I'm convinced I can still learn a lot from him, and I hope he can help me win another Champions League here.

"The manager has played a big part in this [transfer]. After I spoke to him, I was convinced I wanted to join Real Madrid. But in general, everything this club represents is evident.

"I've always said that the Champions League is Real Madrid's competition, because that's where you see the club's real side.

"I'm very grateful to be here. It's like I'm dreaming, but this is real, and I feel immense pleasure to be here. I've never seen anything like this before."

Rudiger, who has won 53 caps for Germany, also revealed it was not international team-mate Toni Kroos that advised him to move to the Santiago Bernabeu, but Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who made 109 appearances during a four-year spell with the Spanish giants. 

"I haven't spoken to Kroos too much about Real Madrid, I've spoken to Mateo Kovacic and he's told me a lot of things," Rudiger added. "He talked a lot about [Madrid and Croatia's Luka] Modric.

"He told me: 'You go there and enjoy it, it's a great move for you'. I've never heard a bad word about Real Madrid."

Rudiger has also been in touch with another former Blancos star since making the move to Spain, namely Brazil's legendary 2002 World Cup hero Ronaldo Nazario.

"Ronaldo played in the 2002 final against Germany sporting a very distinctive haircut," the defender recalled. "When we were kids playing football in the street, Ronaldo was our idol.

"When I signed, I spoke to him on a video call. I was excited and very nervous at the same time!"

Retired Real Madrid and Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario has made true on his promise to cycle from Valladolid to Santiago de Compostela following their promotion to LaLiga.

The 45-year-old, who also owns his first professional club Cruzeiro, bought a controlling 51 per cent stake in the club in 2018 and has overseen their return to the Spanish top flight as president.

To help Ronaldo on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage made by thousands each year, he is riding an electric bike.

Commencing his trek from Valladolid's Estadio Jose Zorrilla with girlfriend Celina Locks, the 'poorly conditioned' World Cup winner insisted he is happy to follow through on that promise.

"When we were relegated, I knew we had to do a lot of work to get back to the Primera Division," Ronaldo said.

"I made the promise, we have done a very good job, especially at the beginning of the year with all the changes we made, all the philosophy we have changed.

"It will be beautiful. I know that I will suffer physically, but it will be an unforgettable experience."

The Pucelanos earned automatic promotion back to LaLiga a year after they were relegated from LaLiga, finishing equal on points with title-winning Almeria.

They booked their place in the Spanish top flight on the final day of the league season, leapfrogging Eibar and beating them to automatic promotion by a point, after they lost in injury time to Alcorcon.

Retired Real Madrid and Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario has made true on his promise to cycle from Valladolid to Santiago de Compostela following their promotion to LaLiga.

The 45-year-old, who also owns his first professional club Cruzeiro, bought a controlling 51 per cent stake in the club in 2018 and has overseen their return to the Spanish top flight as president.

To help Ronaldo on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage made by thousands each year, he is riding an electric bike.

Commencing his trek from Valladolid's Estadio Jose Zorrilla with girlfriend Celina Locks, the 'poorly conditioned' World Cup winner insisted he is happy to follow through on that promise.

"When we were relegated, I knew we had to do a lot of work to get back to the Primera Division," Ronaldo said.

"I made the promise, we have done a very good job, especially at the beginning of the year with all the changes we made, all the philosophy we have changed.

"It will be beautiful. I know that I will suffer physically, but it will be an unforgettable experience."

The Pucelanos earned automatic promotion back to LaLiga a year after they were relegated from LaLiga, finishing equal on points with title-winning Almeria.

They booked their place in the Spanish top flight on the final day of the league season, leapfrogging Eibar and beating them to automatic promotion by a point, after they lost in injury time to Alcorcon.

Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario has revealed he will fulfil a promise to cycle 500km following Real Valladolid's promotion to LaLiga.

The Pucelanos will be playing in the Spanish top-flight next season after finishing second in the Segunda Division.

Ronaldo, who became the club's majority shareholder in 2018, will now make the pilgrimage route from Valladolid to Santiago de Compostela, the culmination of the Camino de Santiago.

"To celebrate Valladolid's automatic promotion, I made a promise a long time ago, even when we were relegated [in 2021]," Ronaldo stated on Twitch.

"I promised that if we came back [to LaLiga], I would do the Camino de Santiago. I will do it by bike as I can't run.

"My wife [Celine] and I will leave from Valladolid on Sunday and travel to Santiago de Compostela by bicycle."

Valladolid secured promotion back to LaLiga at the first time of asking after suffering relegation last season, and Ronaldo believes the achievement is comparable with those in his own playing career.

The former striker fired Brazil to their fifth World Cup success in 2002, winning the Golden Boot in Japan after scoring eight goals at the tournament, including both strikes in their final win over Germany.

He claimed, as reported by El Norte de Castilla, that Valladolid's success was "right there next to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea."

 

Rafael Leao's pace, power and flair invokes memories of Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario, while only Cristiano Ronaldo was as talented as the Milan winger aged 18 at Sporting CP.

That is according to former Sporting coach Tiago Fernandes, who worked with Leao as he came through the ranks at the Portuguese club and coached a young Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.

Leao has become central to Stefano Pioli's plans at Milan this season as the Rossoneri seek a first Scudetto since the 2010-11 campaign, sitting two points clear of Inter with two Serie A games left to play.

The 22-year-old starred in the 3-1 comeback victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday, driving down the left flank to provide two almost identical assists for birthday boy Sandro Tonali to score.

Leao leads Milan charts for most goals (10) in the league this campaign, while only Theo Hernandez (6) boasts as many assists.

He has created 38 chances in total in the Italian top flight this season, a tally that only Hernandez (49) and Tonali (42) can better.

Fernandes, speaking to Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb, heaped praise on Leao as he drew comparisons between the forward and Brazil great Ronaldo.

"Leao has the power of Ronaldo, he has the talent to solve matches on his own," said Fernandes, who worked at Sporting between 2011 and 2018.

"He reminds me of the 'Phenomenon' [Ronaldo] with speed, technique and explosiveness in decisive moments, qualities that this season have emerged every game to drag Milan towards great results."

Fernandes reflected on his memories of developing Leao when he was at Sporting's academy, with Portugal compatriot Ronaldo the only other youth player to display so much potential.

"We are talking about a very special guy for me, I'm so happy with what he's doing," he added on the Milan star. "I met him when he was just 12-13 years old, coaching him in almost all the youth teams of Sporting until his first team debut at 18.

"I can assure you that only Cristiano Ronaldo in Lisbon had the same talent as him at that age. It is very exciting. It repays the many hours of work spent together on the pitch at Sporting.

"I am proud that he has landed in a great club like the Rossoneri, he is doing very well. I want him to win the Scudetto, now there are only two games left to finish the job."

As for the future of Leao, Fernandes believes he could play for any of Europe's elite given the qualities he possesses.

"Rafael has the talent to play in the best clubs in the world, from Real Madrid to Barcelona," Fernandes added. "I am convinced that he has an incredible career ahead of him."

Neymar has criticised the connection between the Brazil national team and their fans as he questioned whether the Selecao are as important now.

Brazil became the first South American team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, with Neymar set to take part in Qatar in November.

However, the Paris Saint-Germain forward, who missed a penalty in a 3-1 defeat to Nantes in Ligue 1 on Saturday, believes the Selecao's games are not talked about enough and there is no hype around their outings.

"Today the national team has distanced itself from the fans, I don't know why, but I see it through the games," Neymar told Ronaldo Nazario on the Fenomenos podcast.

"There is little comment, few people know when we are going to play. And that's bad, it's sad. In this generation of mine, when the national team plays, it's no longer important.

"When I was a child, the national team match was an event. You put the Brazilian flag in the window. There was a barbecue, there was cake and there was everything at home. It was quite an event. 

"Today it no longer has that importance, I don't know how we got to this stage. I hope that everything will come back, that the fans will once again support the Brazilian team. 

"That we'll be together to go in search of the World Cup, which is what everyone wants."

Neymar has endured a tumultuous relationship with Brazil, revealing last year that he was unsure whether he could manage another World Cup with the national side due to the mental stress it imposes on him.

Brazil remain unbeaten in their 15 CONMEBOL qualifiers for the World Cup, in which they next face Chile on March 24.

Ronaldo has tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to miss Sunday's anniversary celebrations of Cruzeiro, the Brazilian club he recently bought.

The two-time Ballon d'Or winner, who top-scored in Brazil's 2002 World Cup triumph, has been experiencing mild symptoms of the coronavirus.

Ronaldo had been due to attend events marking Cruzeiro's 101st anniversary, but the 45-year-old former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter striker was instead isolating.

His positive case was announced by the Brazilian club, who were acquired by Ronaldo, with the support of an investment bank, in December.

"Cruzeiro reports that this Sunday morning Ronaldo Nazario tested positive for COVID-19," the Campeonato Serie B club said.

"This makes it impossible for him to travel to Belo Horizonte today, as well as his presence in the commemorative actions for the club's anniversary.

"Ronaldo is doing well, with mild symptoms and, on medical advice, is now in rest and social isolation."

Ronaldo has been majority owner of Spanish club Real Valladolid since 2018 and serves as the Segunda Division team's president. He had been due to meet with representatives of Cruzeiro supporters on Sunday and was scheduled to appear at a news conference on Monday before taking ill.

He began his playing career at Cruzeiro as a teenage sensation before heading to Europe to join Dutch giants PSV after the 1994 World Cup.

Ronaldo wrote on Twitter: "Cruzeiro nation, this is not the way I wanted to spend this January 2 which is more than special for us.

"I had the greatest anticipation and everything was organised for this moment. But there are situations in life that are beyond our control and, unfortunately, last night I found myself in one of them. I started to feel bad, had a PCR and woke up today with a positive result for COVID-19.

"The most important thing is that I am vaccinated, I will follow the isolation protocols and, at the end of it, I hope to be 100 per cent recovered to resume my schedule.

"Our meeting was not cancelled, it was postponed due to circumstances. And I make a point of celebrating with you the anniversary of our club! It's just the beginning of our fight together! I count on you, count on me."

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