LONDON (Reuters) - Ronaldinho’s Brazil return after a one-year absence ended ignominiously when he missed a penalty and was substituted at halftime following a dismal performance in the 2-1 friendly defeat by England on Wednesday.
Even taking into account that the Brazilian season has only just started and he is not fully match fit, the 32-year-old’s performance was so ponderous that it raised questions about the wisdom of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s decision to recall him.
Scolari had warned that Ronaldinho would have to justify the decision to give yet another chance to a player who, despite immense natural talent, has played in only fits and starts for his country, blamed largely on his party lifestyle.
The twice former World Player of the Year, a World Cup winner under Scolari in 2002, also failed to provide the leadership which Scolari had asked of him as the most experienced member of a team including only four other players with World Cup experience.
On the contrary, his presence seemed to unnerve his team mates with Brazil resorting to long kicks forward to miss out the midfield altogether in the first half.
He wasted a chance to put Brazil ahead midway through the first half when his weak penalty was saved by England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who also smothered Ronaldinho’s attempt to score from the rebound.
Scolari, starting his second stint as Brazil coach, later revealed that Ronaldinho should not have taken the penalty as Neymar was the designated taker.
“It was established that Neymar would take the penalties but he was changing his shin pad, or something like that,” Scolari told reporters.
“Ronaldinho took the ball and nobody is going to ask a player of that experience and with that caliber to back down and let somebody else take it.”
Another low point came when Ronaldinho misplaced a routine two-meter pass, kicking the ball straight out of play.
It was all a far cry from his performance against England in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final when he set up one goal and scored the second in Brazil’s 2-1 win.
Scolari showed in his previous stint as Brazil coach that he was not afraid to wield the axe even when big-name players were concerned.
Romario played so poorly in Scolari’s first game in charge, a World Cup qualifier away to Uruguay, that he was never picked again, despite being one of the country’s most prolific strikers.
Scolari managed to resist an incessant media campaign for Romario’s recall but his apparent stubbornness paid off as Brazil went on to win a fifth world title.
However, Scolari said that Ronaldinho would be given another chance.
“He has played 90 minutes for the first time this year last week, so it’s to be expected that he is not fully in the conditions that he wants,” said Scolari.
“But if he continues working normally, he will comfortably make the next squad.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond; firstname.lastname@example.org; +41 79 917 1402; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com)
Reporting by Brian Homewood