JOHANNESBURG - If he received as many flowers as he does red and yellow cards, Brazil's Felipe Melo would be a very happy man.
The defensive midfielder has a fearsome reputation for his crunching tackles, admitting that he often goes over the top, but on Saturday revealed a soft centre which few would have suspected.
"I'm an old romantic," he said to much bewilderment from the hundreds of Brazilian reporters at the team's daily news conference.
"People may think I have a nasty face, but I like to send cards and flowers to my wife, and I like to receive them as well, it's great ... in fact, I get upset if I don't get them.
"We've been married six years but it still feels like we've just started going out," he added.
In football terms, there is nothing romantic about a player who has picked up five red cards in the last two seasons - one with Brazil and two with each of Juventus and Fiorentina - and is habitually booked.
But the 27-year-old made no apologies for his style of play and said that he regarded fouling opponents as an occupational hazard rather than unsporting behaviour.
"I'm a defensive midfielder and when the opposition has a counter-attack, I'm obliged to stop them so that something worse doesn't happen," he said with a sincerity which some might admire but which football purists could find alarming.
"If I have to commit a foul, I will. If I have to get a yellow card, I will. It's better than conceding a goal."
On the other hand, he said that red cards were something to be avoided.
"I know that sometimes I go over the top," added Felipe Melo, who was involved in a flare-up with team mate Kaka for a fierce tackle in a training session just after the team had arrived in South Africa.
"It's something I've been thinking about a lot and I know it's something that all Brazilians are worried about. My father is always on my case about this, he won't stop reminding me.
"But I've really prepared for this World Cup, I know that I can't afford to get sent off and leave Brazil with a man short."
He said that seeing Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro get a red card after only 16 minutes on the field against France on Friday was a warning light.
"I have to be focused and concentrating," he said. "I can assure you that I've worked very hard on this."comments