Tuesday 20 September 2016, 01:30

Reyes proving a hit with the home fans

It all began in the hosts’ opening match of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, against Portugal in Cali. The livewire No14 came on, put his foot on the ball a couple of times and produced feint or two, giving the fans reason enough in his brief appearance on the court to adopt him as their own.

Then, in Colombia’s second match against Uzbekistan, also in Cali, with the little blond-haired player on the bench and his side struggling, a chant went up around the arena: “Reeeeyes! Reeeeyes! Reeeeyes!”

“Of course I heard it, but you want to stay focused on the match,” said the player in question, Andres Camilo Reyes, in conversation with FIFA.com. “If I think about it, it’s a lovely thing for a player to hear, especially in a sport like futsal, which is starting to grow. It makes me feel proud.”

It should be added that the 27-year-old defender, who contributed a goal and two assists in the vital 4-3 win over Panama in Colombia’s third match, does not hail from Cali. “I’m from Bogota, like the rest of my family. I grew up in the Aures 1 neighbourhood in the suburb of Suba. That’s where I developed as a player and a person.”

It was there that his mother would chide him for playing football and urge him to pick up a book instead. “We’d play all day long on the local pitches and my mum would come and say: ‘Stop playing that sport that nobody knows and get studying’. In the end, though, I’d always forget.”

The sixth-shortest player in the tournament at 5’4 (1.62m), Reyes was never afraid to get a kick or two in his younger days, despite invariably being smaller than the players he was up against: “I did what I loved doing, which was to put my foot on the ball, sell dummies and dribble. They’d try and knock me off it but it never bothered me.”

Hope springs eternal Though Reyes was unsure of making the Colombia squad for the Futsal World Cup, the invitation duly came his way, forcing him to dye some of his blond locks white. Taking up the story, the Saeta Futsal Club player said: “I wasn’t playing well and I was out of shape. I’d been out of form for the best part of a year. Then, three days before they announced the squad, my wife said to me: ‘If they call you, you have to dye your hair any colour I want’. So you could say both our dreams came true,” he added with a laugh.

A father to three-year-old Maria Paula and four-year-old Juan Camilo, who “already plays the ball like daddy”, Reyes loves spending time with his family. His duties as a parent and national-team futsal player have led to him putting his systems engineering studies on hold, though he has every intention of completing his degree one day: “We’ll just have to see what happens when this is over.”

“This” is the ongoing World Cup, which has seen the hosts scrape into the last 16 following their narrow defeat of the Panamanians. “The nerves were definitely there, especially in the last few seconds. We were all thinking about that last play of the game against Portugal. We needed to keep a cool head to make sure we didn’t make that mistake again, and we did stay cool. That’s the positive thing.”

Los Cafeteros, who have stayed on in Cali, now face Paraguay in the Round of 16 without two of their best players, Angellott Caro and Jorge Abril, both of whom are suspended after picking up two yellow cards apiece in the group phase. Their absence means Reyes will have a bigger role to perform in creating play against the Paraguayans.

“They’re not easy players to replace,” he said. “They spend a lot of time on the court and we’ll miss them. And we’re praying to God that Yulian (Diaz) can make a quick comeback. He’s another key player. I’ve got no doubts, though, that the rest of the team and I will be there competing.”