Cardinal thriving in Cristiano’s shadow
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He’s 27, a prolific goalscorer and wears the No7 shirt for Portugal. Sounds familiar? Well, Cardinal might not be Cristiano Ronaldo, but he is fast becoming as talismanic a figure for the Portuguese futsal team as his star countryman for their football counterparts.

A haul of seven goals from four matches at Thailand 2012 gives an indication of his worth to Jorge Braz’s side, and his Canada-born coach has been leading a chorus of grateful adulation. “Cardinal is special; he’s one of best pivots in game,” said Braz.

“He knows he can still get even better, and he is focused on improving the little details - and that’s why he’s having such a great tournament. He’s a great person and, above all the footballing qualities he has, he’s someone who's never satisfied unless he's winning. If he can keep on improving, there’s no doubt he’s going to be one of the very best.”

If Braz’s assessment of a born winner and fiercely determined perfectionist is accurate, it would suggest that the similarities to Ronaldo do not end with their age, shirt number and nationality. And if that’s the case, it’s because the Real Madrid star has been an inspiration to a player acutely aware of the added responsibility his jersey carries.

“It’s a number I’m very proud and very happy to wear,” Cardinal told FIFA.com. “Cristiano is my idol in football. I don’t compare myself to him, of course, but I hope I can represent Portugal as he does in this shirt. And the number fits well for me at the moment – after all, that’s the number of goals I have at this tournament!”

It’s a number I’m very proud and very happy to wear. Cristiano is my idol in football.
Cardinal on wearing the Portugal No7 shirt

Cardinal will be hoping that the symmetry ends during Portugal’s quarter-final against Italy, particularly as he is just two behind Russia’s Eder Lima – seven of whose goals came against the Solomon Islands – in the race to finish top scorer. It’s clear, however, that the adidas Golden Shoe has not become an obsession.

“It would be very nice, of course, but it’s honestly not my main goal,” he said. “The most important thing for me is always the team. I was to win the golden shoe, it would of course mean a lot to me. But it’s not something I'm spending a lot of time thinking about.”

Personal prizes might not be his focus, but Cardinal does concede that he is better equipped than ever to compete for such illustrious awards. “I’ve never played better than I am right now,” he enthused. “I’m in great form and feel like I’m going to score in every match I play. But I know I have to keep improving and make sure I have the best tournament possible. I feel in good shape right now but the standard of the tournament is going to keep on getting higher, so I need to keep raising my game. I hope, and I believe, that my best moment at this tournament is still to come.”

Given his form thus far, such words are sure to send shivers down Italian spines. The Azzurri players will know that they are facing a forward at the very top of his game, and a Portugal side that was hugely impressive in their 4-1 victory over Paraguay in the Round of 16.

“We played really well,” reflected Cardinal. “We knew we would need to produce a good performance to dominate against Paraguay, and that was what we came up with. The balance of the team was perfect, and our determination to stay in the competition was there for everyone to see.

“Now we’re looking forward to the quarter-final, and we’re relaxed about our opponents. The only difference for us in playing Italy over Egypt is that we know the Italians better, which will help with our preparation. We know they're a good team who will give us a tough match but it’s one we can go out and enjoy. We have achieved our main objective at this tournament and now it’s just a case of playing to our maximum and going as far as we possibly can.”

With Cardinal in his current form, that could be very far indeed.