The Ronaldo Final: The Controversy Of The 1998 World Cup Team Sheets 25 Years On

It was on July 12, 1998 that the Brazil striker rose from his sickbed to play
08:01, 12 Jul 2023

Brazil head coach Mario Zagallo delivered the team sheet that would become infamous at 7:48pm local time, 72 minutes before kick-off in the World Cup final on July 12, 1998. Edmundo, and not Ronaldo, would start the showpiece occasion against France.

Immediately, there was rumour and speculation. Ronaldo, who had had to take a painkiller to deal with a knee injury earlier in the tournament, must have had a recurrence of the same problem, went the general consensus. There was no way the 1997 Ballon d’Or winner, the guy commonly accepted to be the greatest finisher in the game, would miss this final for any other reason.

Yet the real conjecture was still to come. At 8:18, Brazil submitted a revised squad list, this time with Ronaldo starting and Edmundo among the subs. Even in a pre-social media world the globe seemed to be united in rushing to conclusions. Had the Selecao staff pushed the great striker into playing? Was it Nike insisting on their prized client being visible on the grandest stage regardless of his readiness to compete?


The latter was the assumption many ran with for months – years even – afterwards. Zinedine Zidane, Adidas’ number-one athlete, had just won the 1998 Ballon d’Or and was lining up for France, replete in Adidas kit. Ronaldo was the star of THAT Nike airport advert to the strains of Mas Que Nada by Sergio Mendes, the crowning moment of the decades-long association between the sportswear giants and the Brazilian national team. Had they stepped in to ensure screen time for their biggest asset?

The truth came out some time later. Ronaldo had been ill on the day of the final. Violently so. To the point that it frightened the lives out of his team-mates and would result in R9 spending more than three hours in a local hospital.

“I had a convulsion after lunch, in the afternoon. I was unconscious for three or four minutes,” Ronaldo told the BBC some years after the incident.

“Nobody knows why. [Was it nerves?] When you are there and you breathe the competition, everything is about the competition. You cannot disconnect from the competition, it’s a lot of pressure.”


While France went on to win 3-0, inspired by Zidane, Brazil as a nation took some time to get its head around what had happened that day. There was even a congress committee set up to review the events.

“When I saw what it was, I despaired because it was a really shocking scene,” Edmundo told the committee of the incident having seen his friend frothing from the mouth and shaking uncontrollably. The exact details the reserve forward when on to disclose were chilling.

“[He was] hitting out a lot, lying down and hitting himself with his hands [clenched], with his teeth locked together and his mouth foaming.”

Asked to confirm whether Ronaldo’s whole body was hitting itself, Edmundo confirmed: “The whole body, yes.”

It was Cesar Sampaio’s quick thinking which potentially saved the stricken star’s life. With doctors still making their way to the scene, the defender commanded Edmundo to hold his team-mate down so that Sampaio could reach into Ronaldo’s mouth and stop him from swallowing his tongue.

Ronaldo told the BBC’s Gary Lineker that it was he himself who decided he should still play in the final. “Doctors called me into a room and explained to me that I’d had a convulsion and told me I could not play. I said ‘No, it’s not possible, I want to play so I will play.’”

Whatever the wisdom behind that decision, there were inevitable flashbacks four years on when Brazil returned to the final in Tokyo against Germany. On that occasion, Ronaldo simply couldn’t bear the thought of attempting to sleep again given what had happened in Paris in ’98.

“We had the lunch, and afterwards everybody went to sleep, or to do their stuff, and I was looking for people to talk to,” he explained. “I didn’t want to go to sleep. I found Dida, and he was talking to me all the time until we left for the stadium. I was very scared.”

He needn’t have been. That night he was the Ronaldo we all knew and loved. He scored the two goals which won Brazil their fifth World Cup to finish as the competition’s Golden Boot winner with eight. It had come four years later, but one of the most explosive strikers in history had finally reached the pinnacle he had so deserved.

But his story will always be framed around the final he ought not to have played. The final he might not have been alive for without the quick thinking of his terrified team-mates. Conspiracy theories continue to abound as to the real reason for the two different submitted squad lists even 25 years after the whole episode unfolded, yet the bottom line is that Ronaldo lived to tell the tale.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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