Brazilians want Ronaldinho back on national team

Ronaldinho’s name is back on the sports pages across Brazil, and fans and commentators can’t stop talking about the reinvigorated player.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL _ Ronaldinho’s remarkable return to form has quickly made headlines in Brazil, where fans are already calling for the star to join the national team.

After struggling last year with AC Milan, Ronaldinho has put together a string of good performances that are reminiscent of when he won two FIFA world player of the year awards in 2004 and ’05. He’s even making fans in the soccer-crazed nation forget about his disappointing showing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when the team was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Ronaldinho’s name is back on the sports pages across Brazil, and fans and commentators can’t stop talking about the reinvigorated player.

“Brazil is not Brazil without Ronaldinho, especially the way he is playing right now,” said 21-year-old Thiago Lima, a transportation company worker.

Several past players in Brazil also have been displaying their support for Ronaldinho, and even former Argentina great Diego Maradona is on board.

“I watch Milan play and all I see is Ronaldinho,” Maradona told Brazilian media. “He is one of the best I’ve seen play and I hope he will be at the World Cup.”

The calls for his return increased significantly after he scored three goals in AC Milan’s 4-0 win over Siena in the Italian league last weekend, taking his tally to nine. He has already surpassed his total of eight goals scored in the entire tournament last season.

Brazil coach Dunga is the only one who really matters if Ronaldinho wants to make it to the World Cup in South Africa later this year. Dunga criticized Ronaldinho and other Brazilian players who decided to skip the 2007 Copa America to take vacation time, and said he would not be calling up players who were not interested in being with the national team.

But the coach has also made it clear that he’s a fan of Ronaldinho, and that his return to the national team depends on Ronaldinho alone. Dunga hinted recently he was hoping Ronaldinho would regain his form quickly so he could have a chance to summon the star for the World Cup.

“The doors are not closed for him,” Dunga said last month. “We all know that Ronaldinho can make a difference when he is playing with joy.”

Chosen the player of the decade by World Soccer magazine last year, Ronaldinho has said it would be a dream to play in his third World Cup with Brazil.

Dunga will have his first opportunity to get Ronaldinho back in the national team on Feb. 9, when he will announce Brazil’s squad for a friendly against Ireland in London on March 2.

The 29-year-old Ronaldinho will have about 20 matches with AC Milan to try to make his case before Dunga announces the final World Cup squad in May.

Ronaldinho hasn’t been selected by Dunga since the beginning of 2009, and is fighting for a position with midfielders Julio Baptista, Elano and Ramires.

If Dunga decides not to call up Ronaldinho in the coming matches, he is likely to face the same kind of pressure that made former Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari an unpopular figure before the 2002 World Cup, when he declined to draft Romario even though the striker’s standout play sparked a national campaign to put him on the squad.

Ronaldinho, who led Barcelona to the Champions League title in 2006, thanks his revamped performances in part to AC Milan coach Leonardo, the Brazilian who has given the player a lot more space since he took over the team last year.

“I have a good rapport with the coach,” Ronaldinho said. “It’s helping me with my form as I can speak to Leonardo about anything and when I go on the field I feel the coach’s trust.”

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