By Mohamed Moallim
1997 was a wonderful year if you were a Brazilian forward named Ronaldo a.k.a. O Fenômeno, a debut season at FC Barcelona ended with a Cup Winners’ Cup winner’s medal and 47 goals scored – the world was his oyster. And that summer he set off for his second Copa América in Bolivia.
The tournament was also the first I watched, albeit sporadically, though one game that I vividly remember was seeing Ronaldo at his pomp – it was their first group game against Costa Rica.
Brazil won 5-0 and at times looked like an expedition or even a pre-season friendly, the samba boys were that rampant. In the game itself Ronaldo grabbed himself a second half hat-trick (nothing new here) and there was a cameo from the eccentric Djalminha who opened the scoring and a Rónald González own goal doubled the Brazilian lead ten minutes from the half-time.
From the get go Brazil laid down a marker with a statement of intent and truly began as they mean to go own, two further games against Mexico and Colombia in the group were won, though Mexico did put up a resistance losing only 3-2.
Ronaldo who didn’t score in those two games would make up for it in the quarter-finals scoring twice in a 2-0 win over Paraguay, though José Luis Chilavert denied him another hat-trick in the tournament from the spot. In the semis Brazil was at the mercurial best once again in a scintillating 7-0 demolition of Chile (and surprisingly Ronaldo wasn’t on the score sheet).
But he would score in the 3-1 win over Boliva in the final – Brazil’s 5th title.
Without doubt the star of the tournament – no one has had a bigger impact in a single tournament, in my opinion, since – and capped off what had been a wonderful year but the summer would also see him leave Catalunya for Milan, the Nerazzurri half that is.