50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #41 Romario
It's September the 18th, 1993.
The FIFA World Cup is less than 9 months away, and the entire nation of Brazil is on its knees praying... if they don't win tomorrow - against those great rivals Uruguay - they don't make it to the tournament they consider their birthright.
No country does football quite like Brazil, and they were now having to imagine the unthinkable. A World Cup without Brazil? Heads would roll, blood would flow.
That's why Carlos Alberto Perreira, a strong man, a good man, has to go back on a decision he'd said earlier was irrevocable. "No, I won’t recall Romario", he'd snapped earlier in the year after being asked the question for the millionth time... in 1992, just as Romario was approaching the zenith of his form at PSV, Perreira had banned the always outspoken forward for complaining vocally about not being played for a friendly. Any manager would have been irked if one of their players had said, "I wouldn't have come from the Netherlands if I knew I wasn't going to play", but for a disciplinarian like Perreira this bordered on the criminal. Now, though, he didn't have a choice.
Brazil needed to win. They needed Romario.
The coach announced to the world that Brazil's no. 11 tomorrow would be Romario (who was by then wreaking havoc at the top of Johann Cruyff's Barcelona Dream Team). The local press thronged around their returning hero, their saviour-to-be, and asked him about the pressure, asked him about his expectations... "I already know what is going to happen: I'm going to finish Uruguay," he grinned in return.
So, on the 19th of September, 1993, he stepped out onto the Maracana and did just that.
Brazil won 2-0, sealing their trip to the United States, thanks to a clever header and a beautiful one-on-one finish from Romario - the latter showcasing the essence of his greatness ... he didn't just finish ruthlessly, he toyed with goalkeepers, gave them nightmares, made them question the purpose of their existence.
Look at Roberto Siboldi in the Uruguayan goal. Look at the body language. It's the despair of a man who's been totally, completely, stripped of all professional dignity.
Nobody finishes one-on-ones, finishes off goalkeepers, quite like Romario these days.
After that show of individual brilliance - Perreira exclaimed after the match "God sent Romario to the Maracana" - there was no way he was sitting USA '94 out... and he duly delivered in the tournament proper.
He scored the opener against Russia in their first match as well as those against Cameroon and Sweden in the other two group games while he provided the assist for the solitary goal of their tough pre-quarter vs the United States (Bebeto scored, their strike partnership was brilliant throughout the tournament).
He would then, once again, open the scoring for Brazil, in the quarters against the Netherlands while also scoring the solitary goal of the semifinal against Sweden... a trademark toe-poke (that playground trick that the great man had transformed into an art form, ugliness made beautiful through the simple trick of imaginative application).
He didn't score against Italy in the final - Franco Baresi putting in one of the greatest individual performances of all-time to stop him from doing so - but he did tuck away his penalty with dead-eyed precision and became the last player to end up with the World Cup and the Golden Ball at the end of it all.
In 1990, he'd been able to play only 66 minutes after a severe thigh injury pre-tournament, in 1998 he wasn't able to recover from a muscular injury (that dream partnership of Ronaldo and Romario working together for just one year, 1997, when the two of them scored 34 goals and terrified the bejeesus of everyone who stood in their path) and in 2002 he was simply over the hill.
But for that one glorious summer in 1994, Brazil's no. 11 was simply unstoppable, a 5'6" force of nature who combined raw pace with deceptive strength and an almost unfair abundance of skill and talent to earn his place in footballing folklore... and our list of 50 Greatest Players in World Cup History.