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Ronaldinho beginning to struggle in Brazil

SAO PAULO (AP) -- The hype of Ronaldinho's return to Brazilian soccer is fading, and fans are beginning to express their discontent with the former Brazil star.

Ronaldinho became one of the greatest acquisitions by a Brazilian club when he signed with Flamengo early this year. But lackluster performances since then have left many disappointed.

The latest setback came Wednesday when he couldn't help Flamengo get past Ceara in the quarterfinals of the Brazilian Cup. Flamengo relinquished a two-goal lead and was held to a 2-2 draw that eliminated the club from the competition. Flamengo had lost 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro in the first leg, when Ronaldinho played poorly and was booed by fans.

"The fans have every right not to be happy when the team doesn't win,'' Ronaldinho said then. "They are starting to jeer me now, but we have to find a way to rebound from that and start winning again.''

Ronaldinho had already been jeered by some fans in the team's disappointing home draw with small club Horizonte in the previous stage of the Brazilian Cup.

"It's part of football,'' Flamengo coach Venderlei Luxemburgo said. "If he doesn't play well and the result is not good, the fans won't be happy.''

Ronaldinho has never been able to replicate the performances that helped him win two FIFA world player of the year awards with Barcelona in 2004 and 2006. But he had a good start with Flamengo after transferring from AC Milan, a move he said was an effort to revive his career.

Ronaldinho scored the decisive goal when Flamengo won the Guanabara Cup in the beginning of the year, firing a perfect free kick that put his name across front-page headlines throughout Brazil.

He also helped the team win the Rio Cup, the second stage of the Rio de Janeiro state championship, which automatically gave Flamengo the overall state title.

But the expectations had been set much higher after Flamengo beat several other Brazilian clubs to sign Ronaldinho in January.

"I'm not worried with Ronaldinho, I think he has been playing well,'' Luxemburgo said. "The problem is that people want to see the same Ronaldinho from Barcelona.''

One of the biggest advantages of signing Ronaldinho was the marketing possibilities that came with the former star. Yet Flamengo has not been able to fully capitalize on the acquisition. Brazil's most popular club remains without a main sponsor on its jersey and played Wednesday's match only with a mention of the club's website on it.

Ronaldinho didn't play badly against Ceara, but it was still not enough to send his team through in the Brazilian Cup. After the match he was involved in a small altercation while complaining to the referee. He ended being shoved by a riot policeman who charged to get the referee out of the way.

The 32-year-old Ronaldinho's main goal when he left Europe was to regain a place in the national team. He said he wants to play the 2014 World Cup, which will be in Brazil, but many are skeptical.

"I don't think he can play in the national team anymore,'' former Brazil coach Mario Zagallo said. "And in three years he definitely won't be able to do it.''

Ronaldinho helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, and was a member of the team that fell to France in the quarterfinals of the 2006 tournament in Germany. He didn't make the squad in 2010 despite playing well with Milan at the time.

Brazil coach Mano Menezes summoned Ronaldinho to a friendly against Argentina last year in Doha, when Brazil lost 1-0, but since then he hasn't gotten another chance.
 

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