With just six seconds remaining, hosts Colombia were on the verge of clinching a vital win over Portugal in their opening match at their FIFA Futsal World Cup. Awarded a free-kick in their own half, all that was required was to run down the clock in order to unleash wild celebrations in the packed-out sports hall.
Yet the set piece did not go to plan, ending in a kick-in for the Portuguese and three seconds still on the clock, enough for the Lusitanians’ pivot Cardinal to receive the ball with his back to goal and fire home on the half-turn – clinching a final score of 1-1. A goal that left the fans thinking, ‘What just happened?’
“We were lacking a bit of what we call 'viveza indígena',” said Jorge Abril, one of the heroes of a valiant display by the hosts, in conversation with FIFA.com. The expression, loosely translated as ‘native smarts’, refers to the manner in which Colombians are said to have inherited their indigenous ancestors’ way of solving problems, generally through ingenuity and cunning.
That is a characteristic that, in Abril’s case, he further honed in informal futsal tournaments, dubbed ‘retochas’, played for cash prizes at neighbourhood level in his home city Bogota and around Colombia, and which help the now 29-year-old defender to “pocket a bit more cash to take home” when his club Real Bucaramanga do not have a game in Colombia’s Liga Argos futsal league.
Life choices “Playing in the retochas is a normal part of our lives,” added Abril, married with one son, three, who his dad proudly says is – like him – the possessor of a fine right foot. “The local mayors’ offices put on tournaments and invite us to play. We’re a group of eight or ten friends and we’ve got a sponsor. Sometimes we play Wednesday through to Sunday, and the championship lasts around seven weeks. Of course people get stuck in, but there’s not normally nastiness,” added Los Cafeteros’ No8.
“I’d like to be a 100 per cent professional futsal player, but the league is only recently emerging and without offers from abroad, you have to find another way,” said the player, who has had brief spells away from Colombia, playing futsal in Kuwait and Venezuela.
Abril is aware, however, that a player's career can be short, and it is for that reason that he is studying to be a public-sector accountant. “I’m in my third year and I’ve two left. When I stop playing, I’ll have a profession to fall back on.”
Magical moments Before all that, however, Abril is revelling in the opportunity to contest a Futsal World Cup on home territory, his second participation in the global finals after Thailand 2012. “It’s a dream come true playing in front of family and friends,” said Abril, who decided to prioritise futsal over the 11-a-side game at 16. “The atmosphere was incredible, and I think that we put on a good show for the fans.”
And that in spite of the blow to morale struck by Cardinal’s late goal. “We didn’t have enough composure or that cleverness you get with experience: we didn’t know how to handle that last passage of play. But it won’t happen again, we’ve learned the lesson.”
Nor should a draw against European heavyweights be seen as a bad result, Abril underlined, as our conversation drew to a close: “At a World Cup it’s important to get something , and the point makes us better placed for our second game than if we’d lost.
"And we’re not going to underestimate Uzbekistan. On the court it’s always five versus five and the primary objective hasn’t altered: to get through the group phase”.