Ronaldinho: the debut of football's smile



Brazil arrived in Paraguay for the 1999 CONMEBOL Copa América with their minds on defending their continental title. It was a team full of international stars, such as Ronaldo Nazário, Rivaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos. Alongside these stars, young Ronaldinho Gaúcho, aged 19, took his first steps in the national side and began to draw the attention of the whole world.

Ronaldinho had been capped for the 1999 CONMEBOL Copa América unexpectedly, to replace Edilson, who had just been released from the team.

His official debut with the yellow jersey came in the very first match, against Venezuela, played at the Oddone Sarubbi Stadium, in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.

In the 74th minute of the game – just four minutes after stepping into the pitch – Ronaldinho surprised all the spectators in the stadium. The «Wizard» got the ball at the edge of the Venezuelan box, with an opponent pressing him less than 30 centimeters away. With instantaneous reaction and just two touches, he spun, chipped the ball over mis marker and dribbled past a second defender before shooting with his right foot into Renny Vega’s goal.

His legendary goal went down in history as one of the most spectacular ever to be scored in a CONMEBOL Copa America match.

When questioned, Ronaldinho couldn’t explain the move: «I did it instinctively. I didn’t have time to think, the defense was putting pressure on me».

Despite this being his only goal in the competition, Ronaldinho had outstanding performances and became America’s champion with the Brazilian national side. Shortly after, he was the team’s top scorer in the Confederations Cup and, in 2002, he became World Champion.