15 years ago, a relatively unknown Brazilian midfielder with a goofy smile and a dodgy hairstyle broke English hearts at yet another World Cup.
The 2002 finals in Japan and South Korea were pretty much as good as it got for England under Sven Goran Eriksson who, for around just 24 minutes had Three Lions fans dreaming of another semi-final appearance.
Ronaldinho may not have yet become the force he would one day be but that Selecao side was still pretty special with Golden Boot winner Ronaldo and the serially underappreciated Rivaldo leading the line.
The latter of the two even got the crucial Brazil equaliser, just before half-time, cancelling out Michael Owen’s opportunistic strike which, in truth, had come against the run of play.
Five minutes into the second half, however, and it was clear who was going to grab the headlines with Ronaldinho scoring a goal that remains the source of some debate among fans of both sides and neutrals alike.
Taking a free-kick that looked likely to be launched into the box, where a selection of Selecao stars were waiting, Ronaldinho instead lifted the ball over the caught off-guard David Seaman and in to the empty net.
Almost to a man, the England team insisted the goal was a fluke with Teddy Sheringham brandishing it a “mishit”.
“It’s just a shame that a goal like that has sent us out of the tournament,” he added. “It was freakish.”
David Beckham was of a similar opinion, though his response in the aftermath of the game suggested the midfielder was more concerned with sparing Seaman’s feelings.
“It was not his (Seaman’s) fault,” he told reporters. “The goal was a fluke. It was a cross that ended up being a goal.”
Ronaldinho’s version of events differs slightly.
“When I hit the ball I wanted to shoot for goal – but maybe not exactly where the ball ended up,” the Brazilian said.
“If I’m being totally honest, I was aiming for the other side of the net.
“I had a shot at goal and I got a little lucky.”
So it was a mishit shot rather than an mishit cross? Danny Mills has never been convinced.
“I will never accept that it was intentional,” Mills said. “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.”
Perhaps Beckham wasn’t the only one looking to spare Seaman’s feelings though with Ronaldinho expressing his sadness at the manner in which England lost the game.
“I was really sad when I saw Seaman crying after the game,” the Brazilian once said.”I have always been a big admirer of his, and there was nothing he could do about that goal.”
Seaman, for his part, seemed to view it as deliberate and entirely his own fault.
“I was expecting a cross, but he’s mishit it and I’ve misread it and it’s a goal and it’s got to go down as a goalkeeping error,” he said.
Then again, in more recent times, Ronaldinho’s stance has changed slightly, perhaps because he continues to be quizzed on the topic by fans and the press alike.
“I knew David Seaman came off his line quite a lot, and I knew if I put the ball where I did that it could cause him problems. So I meant it. It was not luck,” Ronaldinho once reflected, potentially referencing the infamous goal that Seaman conceded for Arsenal against Nayim’s Real Zaragoza in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. before later admitting there may have been an “element of luck” to it.
“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.”
Deliberate or otherwise, the goal detracts from Ronaldinho’s other, less talked about but equally important contribution to the game: the red card he received on 57 minutes.
That left England with well over half an hour to find an equaliser and potentially dump the favourites out of the competition. That they failed to muster a chance of any note is perhaps the one thing few Three Lions fans can debate.
Fluke or not, the goal stood and England were out.
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