Thursday 15 September 2016, 23:31

Atencio helps Panama cut losses and move on

"What haircuts am I going to give the lads to change the mood? Maybe I'll use some outlandish designs or a line or two. I'll see – whatever they ask for to cheer them up!"

Daniel Atencio duly let out the first laugh of his interview with The stern figure he had cut up to that point was understandable: he was speaking in the wake of Panama's unexpected 9-0 loss to Portugal in the FIFA Futsal World Cup.

Granted, Atencio only came on in the second half and was beaten just once, keeping the Portuguese at bay on a number of other occasions. Nevertheless, the facial expression he wore made it clear that the other eight goals had pained him as much as if he had conceded them himself. On a more positive note, though, as the squad's hairdresser he had a hands-on way of taking his team-mates' minds off the result.

"I've been a barber for 16 years," the goalkeeper told us. "It's not a trade I inherited from anyone. Initially I did it to relax; I never thought I'd make a living from it."

How did it become his day job, then? "Sometimes you don't decide what you're going to do in life. There are God-given talents that you've got to nurture and I'm grateful for mine because my hairdressing business is going really well," said the 31-year-old, a devout believer.

Atencio's barbershop is located in a shopping centre in San Miguelito, the humble area that he and several of his team-mates call home. "Almost all of them get their hair done by me, even when we're not on international duty. They don't ask for anything really out there like Arturo Vidal's haircuts, for example," he revealed, bursting into laughter again.

Keeping goal, another vocation But Atencio's hands are not only skilled with scissors, but with goalkeeping gloves too. He showcased his shot-stopping ability in style a few months back at the CONCACAF Futsal Championship, where he won the Best Goalkeeper award and helped his country book their place at Colombia 2016.

"Futsal is my passion, it runs through my veins," said the 5'5 (1.65m) custodian, who represents Panamanian top-flight outfit Perejil at club level. "And the good thing about my job as a barber is that, since I'm my own boss, I can leave at whatever time I want and then go and play or train."

Clearly committed to the cause, Atencio was in superb form during his 20 minutes on the court against Portugal, pulling off a string of saves of the sort that elicit oohs and aahs from fans. "I think it went well for me because I was dying to come on and defend my country's goal, having seen my team-mates struggling."

That said, it is true that serving as the back-up goalie so far in the tournament has been hard for him to take, particularly considering his performances in qualifying: "Yes, it's dampened my spirits, I'm not going to deny it. But the coach preferred Londono because of his experience at the last World Cup and you have to respect your team-mates. And he played really well against Uzbekistan."

Did he have any words for his "friend", as he himself described Londono, after the Portugal game? "Yes, I told him to pick himself up. No player can do well all the time. What matters isn't how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up. He has proven that he's a great keeper. He'll get over it quickly."

Panama on a whole will have to bounce straight back from their mauling by the Portuguese if they are to progress to the Round of 16. Atencio was adamant that the team have learned their lesson: "We made a mistake by pouring forward and leaving them acres of space to exploit. In the second half we sat back and invited them on to us, and we only let in one goal."

Next up on the horizon is a meeting with hosts Colombia, who currently lie third in Group A, a point behind the Panamanians. "We know that, in the worst-case scenario, the three points we've got could be enough to go through, but we're only thinking about winning. Advancing as one of the best third-placed sides would mean a tough draw and we want to avoid that," said Atencio. "Hopefully they finish third, not us," he concluded.