Having kept Ronaldinho shackled in Lisbon, Ricardo Rocha is looking to complete a man-marking miracle as SL Benfica and FC Barcelona lock horns tonight.
Charged with man-marking the most dangerous player in the world, Ronaldinho, SL Benfica defender Ricardo Rocha put in a stunning performance in last week's goalless UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg against FC Barcelona at the Estádio da Luz. With normal right-back Alcides injured, Ronald Koeman was expected to field Nélson in his place but instead opted to switch Ricardo Rocha from his usual position on the left side of defence to take on the Herculean task of containing the Brazilian's endless arsenal of tricks and moves.
Ronaldinho came close to scoring a vital away goal for the visitors with a free-kick in the opening stages in the Portuguese capital, but from then on was kept under wraps and later forced to avoid his usual position on the left wing for fear of running into Ricardo Rocha. Such a performance was vital in maintaining Benfica's run of three successive UEFA Champions League clean sheets and earned Ricardo Rocha the respect of Ronaldinho himself. "My marker had an outstanding game and as a result I couldn't do what I normally do," said the Brazilian.
Speaking after the most testing 90 minutes of his career, the 27-year-old Rocha said: "It is very hard to mark Ronaldinho and I'm feeling quite tired. He's a fabulous player but I tried to do my best. He congratulated me at the end of the game and it is not everyday that you hear something like that from the best player in the world."
Whether Ronaldinho will feel quite so gracious if Ricardo Rocha ties him down so effectively again in tonight's second leg at the Camp Nou remains to be seen. However, that is certainly the mission the Benfica defender is hoping to accomplish. "Our main goal in the first leg was to keep a clean sheet and we succeeded in doing that," he said. "Now we have to wait and see what happens in Spain. We expect another difficult match and our opponents have home advantage, but we believe in ourselves and have proved that we are able to defy the odds."
The odds are stacked against Ricardo Rocha - who earned his only cap for Portugal in a 1-0 friendly defeat against Italy in February 2003 - and his side earning a first appearance in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals thanks to Rijkaard's men's daunting home form. The Catalan club are unbeaten in eight UEFA Champions League home matches, winning six and drawing two, and scoring in every game. Still, having gone three matches without a win in all competitions, Ricardo Rocha and his men may have picked the perfect moment to spring a surprise.
When they first met in Lisbon a week ago, Ricardo Rocha had good reason to tremble at the thought of marking Ronaldinho. This time around, the Brazilian could be the one with the worries.