The unsolved mystery of ‘O Fenomenos’ hours before the 1998 World Cup final

The unsolved mystery of 'O Fenomenos' hours before the 1998 World Cup final

Ronaldo is foaming at the mouth on the floor in the hotel lobby, the same day he is playing a World Cup final – nobody knows why to this day.

On July 12, 1998, Brazil and France met in the World Cup final. The 21-year-old Ronaldo was considered a rising star in the Seleção and had scored four goals in that tournament up to that point.

So “O Fenomeno” was an important part of the Brazil team for the final – one might think. Because in the end, Ronaldo showed a disastrous performance. The unbelievable thing about it: On the same day, the center forward was still fighting for his life. So why was he on the pitch against ‘Les Bleus’?

There’s an hour to go before kick-off, but Ronaldo isn’t even in the stadium yet. The reason: The Brazilian team doctor Dr. Lidio Toledo says Ronaldo will not be able to play due to a left ankle injury.

1998 World Cup final: Ronaldo not in the starting XI – or is he?

Brazil’s number nine is not to be found in the starting XI either. But then there is a surprising twist and a new list with the line-up of the reigning world champion is distributed in the stadium – Ronaldo is suddenly there.

The Brazilians are hoping he can make the difference against the French. However, this should remain a hope for 90 minutes. Because Ronaldo just doesn’t get into the game, shows an underground performance.

In the end, the new world champion is France, the South Americans go down 0:3. After the final whistle there was immediate discussion as to how the obviously ailing Ronaldo was able to stand on the pitch and what the real reason for his health condition was.

To this day there is no clarity about the circumstances, but individual details could be revealed – and suggest incredible events on July 12, 1998.

Foam at the mouth: Ronaldo watches Formula 1 – and collapses

Ronaldo’s teammate at the time, Edmundo, reports that Ronaldo watched the Formula 1 race in the hotel lobby. Suddenly, however, he had a fit and threw himself around wildly. His teammates had to hold him tight and the 21-year-old was foaming at the mouth.

“It was shocking because he’s so big and strong and he did it with all his might,” Edmundo explained afterwards. Roommate Roberto Carlos ran into the hallway and yelled, “Ronaldo is dying!”

And it got even more dramatic: the doctors didn’t come quickly enough and teammate César Sampaio saved the young Ronaldo’s life. He had swallowed his tongue and Sampaio pulled it out of his throat. Ronaldo himself later said: “I can’t remember anything. I was unconscious for three or four minutes”.

“When we ate at 5.30 p.m., Ronaldo was the last to come, but he just sat there with his head hanging, was silent and didn’t eat,” Edmundo continued. The team then makes their way towards the stadium – without Ronaldo and the usual samba music to get in the mood.

He was taken to the Lilas Clinic. There, no epileptic seizure could be diagnosed and it remained unclear why Ronaldo suffered such a seizure. Even after being discharged from the hospital on the same day, there was initially no contact with the team or the team doctors.

Ronaldo arrives at the Stade de France: “I’ll play!”

Eventually, the youngster made his way to the Stade de France to go scoring with the Seleção. Once in the dressing room, Ronaldo made it clear to the team: “I have no problems. I want to play and I will play!”

So coach Mario Zagallo set up Ronaldo – although the centre-forward didn’t even warm up. “If I hadn’t set him up and Brazil lost 3-0, people would still say Zagallo is a blockhead, he should have let Ronaldo play, after all he’s the best footballer in the world,” Zagallo later explained his decision.

Then the first conspiracy theories made the rounds, according to which Ronaldo had been forced by sponsor Nike to stand on the pitch. However, the football legend disagreed, saying: “My relationship with them has always been very good, they only asked me to wear their boots and score a few goals.”

In conversation with the Spanish daily newspaper El País One day he came back to the events of July 12, 1998 and explained: “I can’t explain it. All I know is that I felt very sick, that we went to the hospital and did all the tests we could. Medical was nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Either way, Brazil failed to defend the World Cup title against France’s Zinédine Zidane side. Was Ronaldo’s seizure in the hotel lobby the reason for this? You will probably never know.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here