- Mao could become the first player to make 50 appearances at a FIFA tournament
- The 40-year-old hails “spectacular” Bruno Xavier and Rodrigo
- Mao admires the great Madjer and relishes Brazil-Portugal
“50! Really? (laughs) 50 games! I’ve just found this out now!”
That was Mao’s response when FIFA.com asked the Brazil goalkeeper if he was motivated to become the first player to make 50 appearances in a FIFA tournament.
“I don’t think about these milestones,” he said. “I think about doing my best to help the team. I wasn’t counting, but I’m really surprised by this! What was it – 46 games? It’s really gratifying, I’m very happy to hear it, but my focus is on helping the team.”
Mao's 46 appearances have come across eight FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups – Portuguese legend Alan in next on 43 – and he even scored in its last two editions.
“The best players I’ve played against are Amarelle, Madjer, Roberto of Spain, ‘Sagan’ (Boguslaw Saganowski), [Dejan] Stankovic,” he said.
Mao should come up against one of them in a fight of the 40-somethings in Paraguay: the human highlight real that is Madjer. The consensus is that the outcome of Brazil-Portugal will determine who wins Group D and avoids Russia in the quarter-finals.
“Portugal are a very strong team,” said Mao. “They’ve been growing a lot every day. They have won important titles, they have great players – Madjer, Jordan, Belchior, Coimbra, Be Martins, Leo Martins. They have Petrony in goal – for me he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
“It’s always great to play against Portugal. Who wins when Brazil play Portugal is the public, because both teams have so much quality and play beach soccer at such a high level. They will be very tough opponents.
“All three of our games will be tough. Nigeria are always strong. They always have good players. They are very fast. Their game is based a lot on speed – it’s hard to find a team that runs as much as Nigeria. They mark well and they are very good offensively.
“We’ve also been observing what Oman have done over the last few years. They’ve come on a lot.”
Mao is nevertheless confident Brazil can successfully defend the crown they won in The Bahamas – in part due to boasting Bruno Xavier and Rodrigo.
“They are spectacular players,” said the 40-year-old. “Two huge talents. I believe both should be in the [final three] for the [Beach Soccer Stars] Best Player award this year.
“Brazil is lucky to have excellent players in all areas. Russia, Paraguay, Portugal are very strong contenders, but I believe Brazil are in a very good position to become champions."
Paraguay 2019 could present Mao, who turns 41 in December, with his final chance to become a world champion. “I plan on playing for another two years,” he said. “This could be my last World Cup, but I could play in 2021. I still love playing.
“I dreamed of being a goalkeeper since I was little. This is very rare for a Brazilian as everybody wants to play outfield, but I was always imagining myself as a goalkeeper in big games. I was inspired by Rogerio Ceni, Marcos, Dida, Zetti, Taffarel, Carlos Germano, as well as beach soccer goalkeepers like Robertinho, Paulo Sergio, Jose Maria, Roberto of Spain.
“I’m doing what I always dreamed of, so it’s very gratifying. I’ll make a decision after the World Cup as to whether I carry on.”
Whether Mao has more time to dedicate to his other profession after Paraguay 2019 – he’s a physical education teacher at Rede Doctum – remains to be seen. A sixth FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup – and that 50-match milestone he now knows about – would be some way to bow out from the big stage.