Belchior following Ronaldo's lead
© Foto-net

There was a time, not too long ago, when Cristiano Ronaldo was cast into the uncomplimentary role of showman. A youngster of adonic appearance and extraordinary ability, he nonetheless had, according to many, a disposition to function as a circus act rather than a productive footballer.

Times change and, without surrendering any of his dazzle, the Portuguese has evolved into a devastatingly-effective player, one of the finest in the world, his self-same former critics now in awe of his consistent irrepressibility.

Belchior can relate to his compatriot's now-abandoned portrayal. A handsome beach footballer of irrefutable genius, he was long censured for playing for the benefit of crowds rather than his team, and for going invisible in big games. "I realised there were things I had to change," the Portugal forward admitted to after inspiring a Marseille 2008 quarter-final win over Uruguay.

I've been training harder than ever this year, working on all aspects of my game, and I think it's shown here
Portugal's Belchior on how he has evolved into such a productive player.

"I was going out too much, not putting enough into beach soccer. I realised I had to make the sport my life to become a more consistent and productive player. I'm older and wiser now. ."

That, indeed, it has. For having failed to score at Rio de Janeiro 2007, the 25-year-old currently sits joint-top of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup's scoring chart on nine goals, and he has also employed his enviable box of tricks to facilitate a number of other Selecção das Quinas goals. Formerly a playboy whose time on the sand was often rationed, Belchior has been the embodiment of everything positive about Portugal's ongoing campaign.

Not that he is getting carried away with the incessant comparison between himself and the Manchester United superstar. "Ronaldo is a great player. I'm still working to become a great player," he said. "Things have gone well for me in Marseille. I think I'm playing the best football of my career, but I'm always looking to improve."

He's demonstrating why he's one of the best in the world
Brazil coach Alexandre Soares on Belchior's form in Marseille.

Alexandre Soares will now plot to restrict the influence of Belchior, who has employed his impeccable control and exquisite flicks to create chances for himself and his colleagues against El Salvador, Solomon Islands, Italy and Uruguay, and his precision finishing to punish them. "Belchior is an outstanding player," commented the Brazil coach. "He didn't used to get much playing time but now he is. ."

Brazil tapped improbable reserves of energy to overcome Portugal 10-7 in an epic quarter-final on the Copacabana last November. That day, however, they only had to contend with Belchior in his former thrill-over-fruit state. On Prado beach, the remodelled No10 will strive to make the reigning champions his latest victim.

"We are very confident," Belchior declared. "We believe we can beat every team and that includes Brazil."