Spotlight falls on Ronaldo at Sao Paulo carnival
A dancer of the Gavioes da Fiel samba school rehearses at the Sambadrome in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on February 16, 2014 - by Nelson Almeida
The Gavioes da Fiel samba school have chosen the former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan star as their theme to mark the fact the Cup is returning to Brazil for the first time in 64 years.
In their parade the group will pay homage to Ronaldo's stellar career from his childhood in a poor Rio suburb to his sporting triumphs, inspiring millions of Brazilian youngsters by becoming a global star.
- Little bird takes wing -
In the parade, he will be shown as a little bird who takes wing to taste the heights of sporting glory.
As if Brazilians didn't already know after his 2002 World Cup exploits, the samba school chanted in unison during a visit from AFP: "He is our phenomenon! Our idol! We love him!"
One cried out: "I saw all his matches!"
The Gavioes da Fiel school was founded by fans of Corinthians, one of Brazil's most popular soccer clubs and where Ronaldo played between 2009 and 2011 before hanging up his boots.
Children, adolescents and adults -- grandparents too -- have been flocking to rehearsals at the Anhembi sambadrome ready for their March 1 parade.
Conditions have cooled in recent days in Sao Paulo after a January heatwave brought record temperatures.
As the official start of festivities nears, the festive atmosphere is starting to take hold: percussionists pound out a samba rhythm.
"I am delighted Ronaldo is this year's theme. He is closely associated with Corinthians, with our history," says Rosina Chiapetta, 42, who is overseeing one of the school's dance groups.
Since retiring, Ronaldo, scorer of a record 15 World Cup goals, has put on weight and been suffering the effects of knee injuries which robbed him of a chunk of his career.
He was also involved in a scandal when he was intercepted by police entertaining transvestites at a motel.
But choreographer Zilkson Reis says the focus will be a positive one.
"It will be a homage to the Phenomenon, a source of Brazilian pride. We are going to tell his life story in verse and prose, carnival and fantasy, the story of a lad who conquered the world," Reis said.
"He spread his wings and flew, the child-bird was transformed and crowned on the international stage; Ronaldo, phenomenal," the samba school belt out at the top of their voices.
- Giving it their all -
Four thousand members of the school will parade this year.
The school has already won four titles and is now looking for its own "pentacampeao" -- to match the five World Cup titles Brazil has won.
Come July, the national side have the chance to make it a round half-dozen titles -- hexacampeao in Portuguese.
Day after day since October, ignoring the heat, around 100 workers have been toiling away at the giant hangar where the school will parade in their luxurious decorative floats, some standing around 15 meters (50 feet) high.
From soldering iron, making, sticking together or painting wooden or polystyrene models or else sewing on ribbons, the group has labored devotedly away, carefully readying the floats.
"I hope he will like the homage we'll give him," says Simone Huk, a Corinthians fan working on her third year of carnival preparations.
She is sat in front of a huge ventilator, carefully sticking meters and meters of golden ribbon onto what will form the wings of birds on the floats.
"We are working really hard -- but the emotion of seeing all that in the parade is really very palpable," says the 44-year-old.
Ronaldo, 37, will himself take his place on the final float and receive the crowd's acclaim.