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Ronaldo ready for more playing time

RONALDO quickly went back to work a day after grabbing front-page headlines across Brazil for scoring his first goal since returning to football, getting back to practice in hopes of earning more playing time in Corinthians' upcoming matches.

Ronaldo's photos were stamped in most Brazilian newspapers yesterday after he came off the bench to score an equalizer three minutes into injury time in Corinthians' 1-1 draw against rival Palmeiras in the Sao Paulo state championship on Sunday.

"Ronaldo reborn," read a front-page headline in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

"Never doubt!" the sports daily Lance said.

Ronaldo played 31 minutes in Sunday's match, his second since undergoing the third major knee surgery of his career more than a year ago after an injury with AC Milan. Ronaldo also played 28 minutes against Itumbiara in the Brazilian Cup on Wednesday.

"This goal gives me a lot of confidence," Ronaldo said. "But I know this is only the beginning, I still need to improve my physical condition."

Ronaldo practiced normally along with the reserves on Monday, scoring several goals in a light training session and undergoing physical conditioning.

Team doctors say he is ready to play at least a half tomorrow against Sao Caetano in the Sao Paulo state tournament.

"If you look at how Ronaldo moved around against Itumbiara and Palmeiras, you can see that he improved a lot from one match to the other," doctor Bruno Mazziotti told the GloboEsporte Web site. "In this last match he dribbled and was able to shoot on goal, that's the most important thing. Ronaldo is ready to play from 45 to 60 minutes."

Corinthians coach Mano Menezes has not yet announced if Ronaldo will have a chance to play against Sao Caetano from the start or if he will stay on the bench again.

Fans were already lining up for tickets for tomorrow's match at Pacaembu stadium in Sao Paulo, the first in Corinthians' home city since the striker's return.

Mazziotti said the three-time FIFA Player of Year will likely reach his peak form in three to four weeks.

"He still needs to lose 2 kilograms to 3 kilograms (4.5 pounds to 6.6 pounds)," Mazziotti said. "But he is feeling well and that gives him even more strength to keep working."

The doctor said the biggest concern is to avoid muscle injuries, which are prone to athletes recovering from surgeries like the one Ronaldo underwent in February last year.

The 32-year-old Ronaldo had a lackluster debut against Itumbiara, but played well against Palmeiras on Sunday.

His goal just before time expired came after he freed himself from Palmeiras' defenders at the far post and headed in a corner kick. He had already struck the crossbar with a powerful right-footed shot from the top of the area in the 78th minute.

After the goal, Ronaldo's first since January 2008 with AC Milan, the striker ran toward Corinthians' fans behind the goal and jumped onto a fence to celebrate. Fans joined Ronaldo on the other side of the fence, partially bringing it down.

Stadium officials said the goal was so important that they will name the fence the "Phenomenal Fence." They expect the fence and the stadium in the interior city of President Prudent to become a tourist attraction.

Ronaldo, the all-time leading World Cup scorer with 15 goals, is trying to come back from a serious knee surgery for the third time in his career. In 1999, he tore up his right knee with Inter Milan and needed surgery, and a year later he twisted the same knee and was sidelined for several months after another surgery.

The striker recovered, however, helping Brazil win its fifth world title in 2002 in South Korea and Japan with two of his eight goals coming in the final against Germany.


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