Ronaldo scored twice as Brazil came from behind to sweep aside Japan 4-1 in Dortmund.
The goals took the striker level with Gerd Muller as the leading goalscorer in World Cup finals, but more importantly for Brazil, they showed that he may have a positive role to play in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Both coaches named new-look line-ups for their final Group F match. Japan coach Zico opted for a changed strike partnership – Keiji Tamada and Seiichiro Maki taking the places of Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa.
Brazil boss Carlos Alberto Parreira rested Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Emerson, Ze Roberto and Adriano, but he retained Ronaldo up front.
Ronaldo came close to opening the scoring when he was put through by Ronaldinho. A stepover followed by a left foot drive that was parried to safety by Kawaguchi, hinted at better things for the much-criticised striker.
Kawaguchi was much the busier of the two keepers in the opening stages and on 10 minutes he had to be alert to block a fierce drive from Robinho. Five minutes later Robinho’s mesmerising dribble culminated in a left-foot shot that Kawaguchi did well to tip over.
Shortly afterwards Kawaguchi pulled off another great stop, this time to deny Ronaldo who’s curling effort was tipped round the post. Moments later, Kawagushi, enjoying an outstanding game, was again on hand to palm over a piledriver from Juninho.
At this point Japan were hanging on, as Brazil, who were playing with more panache than they’d displayed in the entire tournament, looked like they could score every time they came forward.
On a rare foray forward Japan carved Brazil open and only a last-ditch interception from Gilberto prevented a goal at the other end.
Despite being under sustained pressure for the opening half hour, Japan stunned the holders by taking the lead. Alex prodded the ball through to Keiji Tamada and the striker took the ball in his stride before firing in a stunning left-foot strike that gave Dida no chance.
Eventually Brazil’s pressure told and on the stroke of half-time they were level. Ronaldinho chipped to Cicinho who headed across the face of the goal to Ronaldo who had the simple task of heading past Kawaguchi from close range. It was Ronaldo’s 13th goal at the World Cup finals, one more than Pele, with whom he had previously shared the Brazilian record. Only Gerd Muller stood ahead of teh Brazilian at this stage.
The Brazilian almost equalled Muller’s tally early in the second half when he played a one-two with Ronaldinho, but his shot flew inches wide of the post.
Brazil didn’t have to wait long to take the lead. Juninho hit a shot from distance which Kawaguchi appeared to have covered, but somehow the ball slipped through his hands. The keeper, who had done so much to keep Brazil at bay in the first half, held his hands in dismay at his blunder.
Five minutes later Gilberto extended Brazil’s lead when he collected a beautifully weighted ball from Ronaldinho and the full-back fired a unstoppable strike into the far corner of the net.
After the third goal, Brazil took off Ronaldinho and Kaka and seemed to content to retain possession for the remainder of the game. However Parreira’s team still carried an attacking threat and with ten minutes remaining, Ronaldo added his second and Brazil’s fourth with a ferocious drive from the edge of the area. In so doing, he equalled Gerd Muller’s longstanding record of 15 goals in the World Cup finals.
Ronaldo’s return to goalscoring form will come as a relief to Parreira, but the striker’s lack of mobility must remain a cause for concern for the Brazilian coach. Nonetheless, his team had shown in their second half performance that they are running into form just when it matters. On this form, they remain, as always, a team that the rest of the world will want to avoid.
Brazil: Dida, Lucio, Juan, Cicinho, Gilberto, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Silva, Juninho, Ronaldo, Robinho.
Subs: Adriano, Cafu, Carlos, Cris, Emerson, Fred, Julio Cesar, Luisao, Mineiro, Ricardinho, Rogerio, Ze Roberto.
Subs used: Ze Robert 71 (for Kaka), Ricardinho 71 (for Ronaldino), Rogelio (
Bookings: Gilberto 40
Japan: Kawaguchi, Santos, Tsuboi, Kaji, Nakazawa, Hidetoshi Nakata, Ogasawara, Nakamura, Inamoto, Maki, Tamada.
Subs: Doi, Endo, Fukunishi, Komano, Moniwa, Koji Nakata, Narazaki, Oguro, Ono, Takahara, Yanagisawa.
Subs used: Koji Nakata 57 (for Ogasawara), Takahara 60 (for Maki), Oguro 66 (for Takahara)
Bookings: Kaji 40
Referee: Eric Poulat (France)
Japan: Tamada 34
Brazil: Ronaldo 45, Juninho 53, Gilberto 59, Romaldo 81.