Ronaldinho satisfied with his return

Aug. 08, 2008, 8:14 a.m. (ET)

SHENYANG, China (AP) Ronaldinho is thrilled to be back.

The Brazilian star played his first official match in nearly five months on Thursday, helping Brazil beat Belgium 1-0 in the team's opener in the Olympic football tournament.

Despite a lackluster performance, the new AC Milan midfielder couldn't be happier.

"It was wonderful to return to action," Ronaldinho said. "It was good to play again in an important competition, and even better that it was with a victory. I am thrilled."

The Brazilian midfielder hadn't played a competitive match since March 9 with FC Barcelona. It also was his first official game since leaving the Spanish club to go to Milan after enduring his worst season in European football, when he was plagued by injuries and struggled with his fitness.

"I felt really good," the 28-year-old Ronaldinho said. "I connected well with my teammates and I can only improve from now on. I hope to play better in each of the next matches."

With most of the world's top players missing the Olympic tournament, the two-time FIFA Player of the Year is one of the few stars in China, along with Argentina's Lionel Messi.

All eyes were on him in Brazil's debut. The fans that nearly packed Shenyang Olympic Stadium cheered loudly every time the playmaker touched the ball or appeared on the big screens.

"It's nice to be treated nicely," Ronaldinho said. "I'm always welcomed here in Asia and it's not been different this time."

But Ronaldinho was far from on top form in Brazil's victory against Belgium. Well-marked, he had difficulty finding space to display his skills or set up teammates with scoring opportunities.

Ronaldinho threatened only on free kicks. He had chances in the 25th, 30th and 73rd minutes. The first deflected off the wall and the last two were saved by goalkeeper Logan Bailly.

"I think Ronaldinho played well," Brazil coach Dunga said. "It was only his third match after more than four months, but he lasted the entire 90 minutes despite the heat. He brings a lot of experience to this team, and he is taking charge of the other players."

Brazil's goal came in the 79th minute from midfielder Hernanes. Belgium had two players sent off: defender Vincent Kompany in the 72nd and midfielder Marouane Fellaini in the 88th.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, being our first match," said Ronaldinho, Brazil's captain at the Olympics. "But it was important that we found a way to win despite the difficulties we had."

Brazil is trying to win the Olympic gold medal for the first time. It is the only significant title the five-time World Cup champions have never won. The Brazilians won the silver twice, at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It also took bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Ronaldinho was a member of the Brazilian Olympic team that was eliminated by Cameroon in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Sydney Games. He was not young enough to be in the Brazilian pre-Olympic squad that failed to qualify for the 2004 Athens Games.

Brazil, which leads Group C with three points after the opening round, will play New Zealand on Sunday in Shenyang.

"We have to focus on this game now, and hopefully get the win to remain on track for the title," Ronaldinho said.

The Olympic football tournament began one day before Friday's opening ceremony in Beijing to accommodate its lengthy schedule.