On a warm, spring afternoon at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte in November 1993, with Bahia’s away game against Cruzeiro in the Campeonato Brasileiro drawing to an end, Bahia goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodriguez knelt on the grass in his six-yard box, placed the ball on the floor, put his hands on his head and looked to the skies.
Rodriguez, an experienced Uruguay international, had already conceded five. Having just saved his side from a sixth, his gesture was a lament aimed at his fragile defence and a plea for mercy from the heavens.
Yet as he released the ball, there was one thing he had not accounted for. The 16-year-old boy stood a few steps behind him was not one for clemency. That boy had one thing on his mind and one alone: scoring goals. Rodriguez reached down, but the second the ball was unattended had been long enough. The goalkeeper grasped at thin air; it was gone.
With two long side steps, the adolescent in the dazzling blue shirt had nipped in. With his first touch, he had taken it away. With his second, he had poked it into the back of the empty net. Rodriguez stood up and appealed for some imaginary infringement, but it was too late. The embarrassment had already been inflicted.
Menino Ronaldo, the child soon to be the Fenomeno, had scored his fifth of the afternoon and Cruzeiro’s sixth.
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