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Brazil Mourns World Cup Loss

July 14, 1998

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A day after the loss in the World Cup final, Brazilians were still wondering what happened.

And the more explanations offered for what happened to star forward Ronaldo, the two-time FIFA player of the year, the more questions arose.

``It’s clear that something happened that we don’t know about. And even if they told me what it was, it would be unethical for me to say it here,″ Romario, the 1994 World Cup star cut from this year’s team at the last minute, told Globo News.

``What happened to Brazil?″ might have been a better question after the top-ranked team was beaten 3-0 by underdog France.

``What happened yesterday was something we weren’t expecting,″ Romario said. ``Everyone was prepared to celebrate our fifth World Cup victory. But unfortunately this didn’t happen and that’s part of soccer also.″

Brazilians had gone into the final with such a positive feeling that they may have been overconfident. The country prepared parades for the victory celebrations. The match seemed like a mere formality.

But on Sunday, the bad omens seemed to pour down even faster than French goals.

Cold and rain thinned the crowd on Copacabana Beach which was expected to be about 1 million to only a few hundred people. They stood before a large screen television set-up by the mayor’s office in anticipation of a party that was supposed to run all night.

Instead, the disbelieving crowd stayed after the game, their eyes glued to the screen waiting for some kind of explanation.

Young girls wearing yellow and green face paint hugged each other with tears in their eyes.

Some in the crowd claimed not to be bothered by the loss, but their expressions said otherwise. Some tried to samba and celebrate anyway, but it was apparent their hearts were not in it.

The next morning a headline in the Rio de Janeiro sports daily Jornal dos Esportes said it best: ``The worst day of our lives.″

``We were robbed, that’s what they’re saying in my neighborhood,″ 37-year-old Zulmira Barbosa de Sousa said. ``How else could France have won?″

Searching for an answer, everyone seemed to look to Ronaldo, the star striker who had been mysteriously sidelined shortly before the game only to reappear minutes later.

There were rumors that team sponsor Nike pressured coach Mario Zagallo to play Ronaldo in the game despite health problems. Nike denied the rumors, but there was still no clear explanation of why he wasn’t on the first list of starters.

A statement by FIFA, the sports governing body, said Ronaldo went to the hospital for X-rays on his left ankle and doctors cleared him to play just before the game.

But on Monday, team doctor Lidio Toledo contradicted FIFA, telling Globo News that Ronaldo had a 30-40 second fit of convulsions around 3 p.m., and was submitted to a battery of neurological tests and an electrocardiogram before he was cleared to play.

``I woke up then and my whole body was in pain. But with time the pain got better and I relaxed a bit,″ Ronaldo told Globo television. ``It was a tremendous scare. We lost the World Cup but I won another cup _ my life.″

Ronaldo didn’t blame his failing health for the loss, though.

``I don’t want to find any excuses for the defeat. They played well. The two goals from corners were clearly our mistakes, but they played better than us,″ he said.

Still, many here wondered why he was kept on the field even when he didn’t appear up to par.

``What surprised me most is that he went on to play even in the second half,″ said soccer legend Pele, a guest commentator on Globo.

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