LONDON: Ronaldo and England teenager Wayne Rooney will be the focus of attention tomorrow when club football takes a breather for a round of controversial international friendlies.
Ronaldo, voted World Player of the Year in 2002, flew out to join his Brazil team mates heading for China after scoring a goal in Real Madrid's 4-1 defeat of Real Betis on Saturday.
Brazil won their fifth world title in Asia in mid-2002 and their visit to the world's most populous country this week will be their second return to the continent since then – Ronaldo scored two goals in November's 3-2 defeat of South Korea.
Clubs pay the huge wages of the game's top players and last week the G-14 group of leading clubs expressed their anger at Brazil taking their players to Asia for what G-14 said was just a money-making trip for the national association.
Fans in China, who reached the World Cup Finals for the first time last year, would disagree. The visit of the world's best players – including Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, and Flavio Conceicao – will add impetus to football's growth in the country.
Rooney, nicknamed Roonaldo by Everton fans, is set to make his debut for England against Australia at the age of 17 – the same age that Ronaldo played his first international for Brazil.
Rooney's ball control, strength and eye for goal have been a revelation this season and England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson will make him the youngest player ever to represent the country where football was invented.
Rooney has played just 26 times for Everton, scoring five goals, and his rapid rise has put a young striker from the other side of Liverpool, Michael Owen, firmly in the shade.
In-form Southampton striker James Beattie and 19-year-old defender Jermaine Jenas from Newcastle United have also been called up by Eriksson for a game of two halves – the first to be played by the first team and the second by those Under-26.
In other friendlies, Spain host Germany, who lost the 2002 World Cup final to Brazil, and European champions France take on the Czech Republic in Paris about six weeks before their next qualifier for the 2004 tournament in Portugal.
Genoa and Amsterdam will be the venues of choice for those who love the beautiful game. Italy and Portugal meet in Genoa, while the Dutch welcome Argentina in Amsterdam in a repeat of the 1978 World Cup final. – Reuters