"I won't shave off my beard, even if we're crowned world champions!" said Portugal's Joao Matos with a contagious peal of laughter as he chatted with FIFA.com. His 'look' is eye-catching and he knows it, with a quick glance back at pictures from him at Thailand 2012, his first trip to the FIFA Futsal World Cup, showing a very different-looking, clean-shaven, short-haired young man...
"It all started at the Futsal EURO in 2014," said the 29-year-old defender. "Quite simply, that was the last time I shaved with a razor. Since then I just use electric clippers. And I look after my beard just like you would your hair: washing it, waxing it and combing it. I don't like to see myself without a beard anymore. What's more, I must admit it's kind of like my trademark now," he added with another wide grin.
That is true to such an extent that, when we asked him if he would sign off on a hypothetical deal exchanging a Futsal World Cup win for his facial hair, the beard won the day. "I insist, I can't even see myself clean-shaven again. So, even if we're crowned world champions I'm not planning on shaving it off."
His "trademark" has made quite the impression during Colombia 2016, particularly among local fans, who ask him for selfie after selfie. In fact, it was for that reason that he was the last Portugal player to leave the parquet court at the Coliseo el Pueblo after the 4-0 win over Costa Rica in the Round of 16.
"It doesn't matter if they want pictures because of the beard, because we play well or because we seem like nice guys," said the Sporting Lisbon player. "They pay to see Portugal play and deserve our respect. Besides, it's very nice to feel the warmth of the fans, especially when you're so far away from home.
*Substance to go with style *
Yet do not be fooled into thinking Joao Matos is all about appearances. Very much a family man, with the names of his grandparents, parents, siblings and son tattooed on his arms, and preparing to welcome a daughter into the world on 28 October, he is a dynamic, quick and cool-headed defender.
Indeed, the player is particularly adept at picking out team-mates, even in the tightest of spots, and has already racked up three assists so far this Futsal World Cup. "It's easy to play in a team like this," he said, modestly.
"We've got top-quality players and everybody knows what their role is and what job they need to do to make the whole team stronger," added Matos, a futsal fanatic since he was a child. "When you're a kid and you get to touch the ball hundreds of times, how could you not love this sport?"
Nor does Matos mind that in the Portugal squad, certain players are more to the fore than others. "It may be the case that Ricardinho and Cardinal carry a degree more responsibility than the rest of us, we're not going to deny it. The good thing is that the more opponents worry about them, the better the rest of us can take advantage."
It is a strategy that has worked so far, "though it has not been easy", underlined Matos. "Even against Panama we had to thoroughly work the game. I have to say that Portugal, without underestimating anybody, prepared in order to hit the best possible form at this stage [of the competition]."
The next obstacle in their path is Azerbaijan, the only tournament debutants to have reached the last eight this time around. "They're opponents that rely on certain individuals, and they have some very good ones. Their nationalised Brazilian players have an awful lot of quality, not giving them space will be important."
So, as the interview drew to a close, dare we ask if Portugal can claim the world title? "To say something like that when we've still never won anything would be a mistake," concluded Matos. "We're approaching this one game at a time. There are three 'finals' left and we can't afford to think any other way."