With his long, curly hair, carved muscles and deep, brown tan, Rui Ramos could easily pass for a guru. And as the spiritual guide of Japan's beach soccer odyssey in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005, in many ways that is precisely what he is. The tournament's surprise package have booked themselves an unlikely semi-final date with France tomorrow, and they will be looking to cause yet another upset. Smiling broadly with his feet buried in the Copacabana sand and drinking coco milk through a straw, this endlessly entertaining coach spoke to FIFA.com.
Rui Ramos, first of all did you get any sleep last night, and secondly what are your thoughts now, looking back on your team's incredible match with Uruguay?
Amazingly, I had absolutely no problem getting to sleep. But I'm only just realising now what we achieved. I'm waiting for my second coconut juice of the day before I can start thinking about France (laughs). We've already climbed three huge mountains and we've got two left [ed. The semi-final, then either the final or the match for third place]. Whatever happens it will be very difficult for us, though, because the rest of the sides in the semi-finals are simply better. But we'll keep fighting till the end.
What do you make of this groundbreaking week for Japanese beach soccer?
Everything begins here for us. We worked really hard to bring a competitive team to the tournament. We had to make some changes because we had injuries to certain players and, to be fair, I don't exactly have a great pool of talent to choose from. What's more, we don't have too many places where we can train either. So I can assure you that our preparations were not easy.
Do you feel like you're experiencing something historic?
Of course, we're going down in the history of Japanese beach soccer, of beach soccer in general, and even Japanese sport. Whether it's the women, the men or futsal we're talking about, no Japanese team has ever got this far in a World Cup. If we had lost our first two matches in the opening round and gone straight home to Japan, beach soccer would have had no chance of growing in our country, but now everyone is watching us transfixed. And we'll be trying to continue the adventure as far as possible.
You were born in Brazil before becoming a naturalised Japanese citizen. What are the cultural differences you have noticed between the two countries?
It's hard for me to compare them because they are so wildly different. There's the language obviously, but also education… It's not easy to explain. The notion of respect is very important in Japan. You feel that there's a real recognition for the elderly and all the work that went on before. And as for the language, you can't compare it with anything. Even if you've never learnt French or Spanish, you can sometimes understand a few words, but with Japanese it's absolutely impossible.
Do you feel mostly Japanese or Brazilian nowadays?
I arrived in Japan when I was 20 and I built my life there. I then obtained a Japanese passport and played seven years for the national team. I've sweated, cried and bled for this country. I truly consider myself 100% Japanese.
Getting back to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, how do you see the semi-final against France going?
To be totally honest, I hope above all that we lose by the smallest possible margin. I want everyone to be able to say that Japan fought right until the end. My players are extremely tired and some of them are injured. When I saw Brazil, Portugal and France training this morning, I said to myself that I'd love to be able to do the same. But it's impossible, my players aren't used to this sand and I need to let them rest a bit. It would be nice if they were still capable of walking out onto the pitch tomorrow (laughs). Seriously, though, I can promise France a difficult game. Anything can happen in football and until the final whistle goes there are so many possibilities. Especially with the crowd right behind us again. My players are proud to wear the Japanese shirt and they intend to show it.