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Nike Denies Pressuring Brazil Team

July 13, 1998

ROME (AP) _ Nike denies pressuring Ronaldo or his coach to have the Brazilian star play in the World Cup final.

``Nike wants to emphasize that the report of such involvement is absolutely false,″ the sports shoe company said Monday in response to ``rumors circulating.″

The statement was released by the Italian branch of Nike following a directive from company headquarters in the United States, Nike Italy spokesman Massimo Giunco said.

Ronaldo, who plays for the Italian club Inter Milan, was one of the focal points of Nike’s World Cup advertising campaign, including a popular TV commercial in which he and his teammates dribble a soccer ball through an airport.

The company has a 10-year sponsorship deal with the Brazilian team for a reported $200 million and in May signed an 11-year deal with Inter Milan worth at least $125 million.

Brazil has derisively been called Team Nike, while FIFA, the sport’s governing body, has decried the influence sponsors hold on the sport.

Confusion surrounded Ronaldo’s status for Sunday night’s final against France.

The two-time FIFA player of the year was not among the 11 starters initially picked by Brazil coach Mario Zagallo. But his name was reinstated to the starting team just before the match. Ronaldo was ineffective during the game as Brazil tumbled to a humiliating 3-0 defeat.

What is unclear is what happened between the initial lineup decision and the start of the game.

FIFA said Ronaldo had gone to the hospital for X-rays on his left ankle, and doctors cleared him to play just before the game. Team doctor Lidio Toledo said Ronaldo felt dizzy after lunch, while press officer Nelson Borges said the player had vomited.

There were reports of locker-room squabbles as to whether the 21-year-old striker should be on the field.

``What is true is that last night’s game was the most important moment of Ronaldo’s career,″ the Nike Italy statement said. ``To play the final of a World Cup is the dream of any player, Ronaldo included.

``Ronaldo and Zagallo decided together to crown this dream, which the Brazilian player _ probably _ deserved to live. In all of this, Nike did not interfere in any way. And besides, why should it have?″

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