Some five months after lighting up the FIFA World Cup, Ronaldo is back on Japanese soil with his Real Madrid CF team-mates for the European/South American Cup.
Madrid, the UEFA Champions League winners, face Copa Libertadores holders Club Olimpia of Paraguay in the annual showdown between the two continents' finest in the Far East. For the first time since the tournament moved to Japan in 1981, Tokyo's National Stadium will not host the match. Instead that honour goes to the Yokohama International Stadium, venue of the World Cup final and Ronaldo's finest hour.
The Brazilian striker scored the last two of his eight World Cup goals in the final there against Germany. This week he described that June night as "the best moment of my life" but the heat and humidity of the Japanese summer have now given way to the cool of winter and Ronaldo - whose early days at the Bernabéu have brought three goals and a knee injury - landed at Narita airport after a near 15-hour flight still feeling the effects of the flu that is doing the rounds in the Madrid squad.
Madrid goal drought
The latest victims are Luis Figo and Steve McManaman although a greater concern for coach Vicente del Bosque will be that his side's Champions League defeat by AC Milan on Tuesday was their third game without a goal. Del Bosque said: "We've come to win but what is most important is we put on a good show and enhance the reputation of Real Madrid."
On current form Madrid do not carry the swagger doubtless expected from Tuesday's audience of stargazers in Yokohama - the Merengues have taken just three points from a possible twelve in recent league matches. Injuries have not helped, although Claude Makelele, Guti and Raúl Bravo are all hopeful of recovering in time to face an Olimpia side who arrived in Tokyo three days ahead of their opponents and played a warm-up match today against J-League side Yokohama Marinos, a 3-1 defeat.
Winners once before
Olimpia are coached by former Argentina World Cup goalkeeper Nery Pumpido, who led them to a penalty shoot-out victory over Brazil's AD São Caetano in the Copa Libertadores final six months after taking charge. Holders of 39 domestic titles, the Asunción side are three-times continental champions and have contested twice previously the European/American Cup.
In 1979, they defeated Sweden's Malmö FF over two legs while in 1990 they were beaten 3-0 by Milan. A hard-working, physical side anchored in midfield by Julio Cesar Enciso, who break quickly, they are hoping to repeat CA Boca Juniors' success against Madrid in 2000.
Spanish eye hat-trick
The 1998 edition was a happier one for the Merengues, Raúl González scoring the winner in a 2-1 defeat of CR Vasco da Gama. That was Madrid's second intercontinental victory, following their win in the inaugural edition against CA Peñarol in 1960. A hat-trick success on Tuesday could help restore the sheen Madrid have been missing in recent weeks.
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