At the summit with Mueller

Ronaldo is not worrying too much about breaking the German legend's record and is keeping his focus firmly on helping Brazil retain the World Cup, writes Michael Church.

The other night at Dortmund, Brazilian striker Ronaldo scored two very important goals of his life. They might have been in a World Cup group match against modest Japan, but they were so vital in the Brazilian striker's life that only the brace he scored in the final of the 2002 World Cup against Germany would edge them out.

Ronaldo's first two goals of World Cup 2006, which enabled him to equal German Gerd Mueller's all-time World Cup tally of 14 goals, came at a time when he was under fire from the Brazilian and global media for his dismal show in his country's opening two matches against Croatia and Australia. Ronaldo's goals helped Brazil beat Japan 4-1 after having conceded the lead to a surprise Japanese goal by Keiji Tamada in the 34th minute. The Real Madrid striker scored Brazil's first and fourth goals, the first coming in the injury time of the first half and the second late in the second half.

Ronaldo, though, is not worrying too much about breaking Mueller's record and is keeping his focus firmly on helping Brazil retain the World Cup. "Goals do give you confidence and it's with goals that you win games," said the 29-year-old striker. "The record I achieved was great but we are going to keep working hard to achieve the main objective. I'm very happy. After playing the first two games without scoring, to score twice against Japan is great. They are a team that plays well and defends well. They complicated matters by scoring first and I had two scoring opportunities but their 'keeper defended well. Then at the end of the first half I headed in a goal, which gave us some tranquillity and enabled us to dominate the game. I'm very happy with my performance and now we have to rest and focus on the knock-out phase."

Ronaldo came into the tournament off the back of a difficult season with Real that was riddled with spells on the sidelines, injuries and public spats with the club's fans.

Further criticism was thrown his way after he failed to shine in victories over both Croatia and Australia earlier in the group stage. However, despite the problems, the 2002 World Cup's leading scorer is confident he is closing in on top form.

"I have full knowledge of my body, my position and my physical condition," he said. "I arrived here below par. I arrived below the physical condition of the rest of my team-mates. After 45 days of training I know I have improved. I have followed a training programme and today I'm much better. I still have some things to improve and I hope that in the coming games I will have the same performance as I did last night, and that is to have the luck to score goals and to qualify Brazil for the next stage."

Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira hailed Ronaldo after the burly centre forward equalled Mueller's World Cup scoring record.

"Ronaldo is back," said Parreira. "He scored two goals today and we always believed in him. We believe he is special and that is why we have kept him in the team."

Keiji Tamada had given Japan a surprise lead when he raced onto Alex's through-ball before blasting past Dida in the 34th minute. The goal came after Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi had kept out Brazil with a string of top-class saves before Ronaldo equalised in injury time with a header. After goals from Juninho and Gilberto in the second half, Ronaldo sealed the win and equalled Mueller's record with nine minutes to go. After an exchange of passes with defender Juan, Ronaldo curled his shot past Kawaguchi from the edge of the penalty area. The game was the last for Zico as the manager of the Japan national team and the Brazilian legend joined Parreira in praising Ronaldo. "Ronaldo is a gunner," he said. "If you leave him like we did he scores. I would love to have Ronaldo in my team because he makes the difference. He's a player who can smell goals. He can position himself well and playing with a team that makes such great goal scoring opportunities helps. Brazil had their task made easier today because they have already qualified and were playing against a desperate team that had to win by more than one goal.

"If we had gone into the second half ahead it would have been different but Ronaldo scored."

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