This Sunday, Portugal play their second match of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012 against Group C opponents Japan. For Portuguese star Ricardinho, the game presents an additional challenge: five of the Japan squad are the 27-year-old's close friends.
Ricardinho and team-mate Arnaldo are the only two members of the Portuguese squad to ply their trade abroad. Ricardinho plays for Japanese outfit Nagoya Oceans, and it was there he first got to know the quintet he may be facing at Nakhon Ratchasima’s Korat Chatchai Hall on 4 November.
“I’ll be playing five club team-mates from Japan and I’ll be fighting hard to beat them," said the globetrotting goalscorer, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. "It won’t be easy because they’re familiar with the way I play and have trained with me. But I’m here to fly the Portuguese colours!”
Ricardinho also had words of praise for Japan, identifying Kaoru Morioka and Katsutoshi Henmi as the biggest dangermen. “Japan are strong,” said the diminutive winger. “And I reckon Morioka and Henmi set them apart. They’re exceptionally talented and the best two players in the side in my opinion.”
Ricardinho is not lacking in talent himself. His skills have reaped him a number of individual awards over the course of his career, not to mention a clutch of breathtaking goals. Most memorable of all was a strike for Nagoya Oceans against Pescadola Machida, courtesy of what Ricardinho calls his “dolphin kick”.
The dolphin kick got a reprise in Portugal’s first Group C match against Libya, with Ricardinho nailing the shot two minutes before the final whistle only to see Ahamad Fathe clear it off the line. The move is rapidly becoming Ricardinho’s trademark:
“I tried it once before in Japan,” he said. “And it resulted in a great goal that was watched around the world. I've had another go in Thailand but unfortunately one of the Libyans blocked the shot. Actually we could have scored more goals against them, but the Libyans were excellent and fought hard. It was a tough game.”
The heavily-tattooed Ricardinho, who has the name of his idol, Brazilian legend Falcao, inked onto his left foot, is enthusiastic about futsal’s growing popularity and thoughtful about Portugal’s chances at the tournament in Thailand: “Futsal is spreading throughout the world and the teams are improving so quickly.
"We have to face pressure in every game now and that certainly affects us," he continued. "We're not allowed to play as convincingly as we used to. This year we’re focusing on taking the tournament game by game, step by step, and we’ll see how far it takes us.”
The interview at an end, Ricardinho goes over to chat with the aforementioned Henmi, but not before making a final statement: “Competition is for the court. Off it, we’re the best of friends.”