Will Lionel Messi's beard inspire Argentina to victory?
'Copper-tinted' stubble credited with propelling team to Copa America final – so should Cristiano Ronaldo take note?
Compared to his contemporaries, Lionel Messi comes across as an unassuming man, relatively free of the narcissism that afflicts many modern footballers.
Nevertheless, his decision to grow a beard for the Copa America has generated headlines around the world and has now been credited with helping to propel Argentina to the final of the competition.
Messi was in fine form as Argentina cruised past the US in the semi-final, scoring with a free kick and providing two assists in a 4-0 romp, and with only one game standing between Argentina and their first major silverware for more than 20 years he is unlikely to be reaching for the razor.
"Messi's beard holds the key to Argentina's Copa America hopes, and his team-mates aren't letting him shave it off," reported The Sun's DreamTeam website this week. "Argentina lost the World Cup final against Germany two years ago and last year's Copa America final against Chile, but Messi's beard is going to change all that."
His "copper-tinted" facial hair has been described by Goal.com as his "new weapon" and he has promised to keep if for a while.
"As Leo and his nation go from strength to strength in the Copa the beard has almost taken on a life of its own, becoming the subject of countless memes and even earning its own Twitter account," notes the website.
The new look has earned Messi comparisons with everyone from Jesus to the Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and characters from Game of Thrones.
When asked about the beard and shown mock-ups of what it might look like by the next World Cup in 2018, Messi said he had no plans to cut it off, but pledged to keep it "neat and tidy".
The beard "seems to have done wonders for him on the international stage", reports NDTV Sports, which goes on to suggest that one of his rivals should think about following suit.
"Cristiano Ronaldo has come under fire from fans following his flop show at the Euro 2016 in France... [and] has looked a pale shadow of the player that led Real Madrid to Champions League triumph," it says. "It might now be time for Ronaldo to don a new avatar, maybe a beard like his Argentine rival."