Football: Ronaldo lauds fantastic Brazil, protesters

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Former world champion Ronaldo on Monday lauded Brazil's "fantastic" Confederations Cup triumph over Spain - but also praised protesters who have taken to the streets in recent weeks, saying they are forcing social change.

"Congratulations for a fantastic victory and an unbelievable achievement," said Ronaldo, whose goals saw off Germany in Brazil's 2002 World Cup win.

"The contact between the team and the Brazilian fans was breathtaking and very touching - to an even greater degree than when I played," said the former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan star and three-time former world player of the year.

"It was really very emotional to see Brazilians there cheering in spite of the difficult times we have experienced with the demonstrations," said the former striker in allusion to the overwhelming outpouring of support at the Maracana stadium.

"Most have been peaceful - although some vandals ruined the show of democracy," Ronaldo told a news conference in Rio.

"I fully support the demonstrations as the Brazilian people are tired of the situation that we face," he added, tackling head-on the worst social unrest in two decades in Brazil as citizens complain too much money is being spent on the World Cup at the expense of investment in public services.

Although opinion polls say most people support the World Cup despite widespread anger about the billions of dollars of public money being invested in the event, Ronaldo and Pele have been accused in some quarters of being out of touch with the man in the street.

Ronaldo caused controversy in mid-tournament when he alluded to public demands for better healthcare by saying "a World Cup isn't made with hospitals but stadiums." But Ronaldo, who worked as a commentator at the Confederations Cup, told reporters: "I have been out in the street, I talked with the people.

"And I realise the Brazilian people are not against the World Cup but against corruption and embezzlement and against the way the health and education systems are managed.

"It has been wonderful to see the Brazilian people rise up against that situation and yet see that most demonstrations urging change have been peaceful," said the 36-year-old.

"We are seeing the results as somehow things seem to be moving swiftly and the government is responding to people's calls," he concluded.