In the midst of what has already been an historic World Cup for the Colombian national team, advancing to its first quarterfinal round in the country’s history, Colombians are looking back and reflecting on a dark period in national soccer history.
It was 20 years ago to the day that national team defender and Atletico Nacional star Andres Escobar was murdered in the aftermath of a disappointing showing at the 1994 World Cup, in which Escobar kicked in an infamous “own goal” against the United States .
The 1994 World Cup
Hailed by Brazilian footballing legend Pelé as the favorite contender in the 1994 tournament, which was hosted in the United States, the Colombian team featured several prominent stars still held in high regard today: Carlos Valderrama, Leonel Alvarez, Freddy Rincon, Adolfo Valencia, Rene Higuita, Victor Aristizabal, Faustino Asprilla, and Andres Escobar.
While expectations were high, the results were uncharacteristically mediocre. Colombia opened the tournament game with a 3 – 1 loss against Romania, followed by a surprise loss to the host country, and a 2-0 win over Switzerland.
Threats leveled against specific players and the team as a whole by Colombian drug lords left a dark cloud hanging over the group stage knockout, but it was Escobar’s 35th minute own goal against the United States that would go down as the tragedy of the tournament, once he was killed 10 days later.
In the early morning of July 2, 1994, Escobar was shot several times in the back with a .38 pistol while leaving a Medellin nightclub with friends. Witnesses claimed the assailant shouted “golazo” — an expression for a memorable goal — after every shot, and Escobar died soon afterwards.
Reasons attributed to his death include an act of random violence, a premeditated murder because of drug lords who bet on Colombia and lost, or something in between the two. Escobar’s alleged killer, a bodyguard of two brothers associated with Carlos Castaño, received a 43-year sentence, but only served 11 years for “good behavior.”
The “Gentleman” of Football
Known as the “gentleman” of football, Escobar was born into an upper-middle class family in the Calasanz neighborhood of Medellin. His talent was soon recognized by Medellin powerhouse Atletico Nacional, where he would play for several years before a short stint at Swiss club Young Boys Bern. Escobar returned to Nacional, where he led “Los Verdes” to several national championships and the first Copa Libertadores title in Colombian history.
Escobar excelled at his role as center back and had offers pending from Italian powerhouse AC Milan and a Mexican club before his assassination.
Escobar competed in the 1990 World Cup, playing a key role in Colombia’s defense. The 1994 qualifying campaign was historic for Colombia and for Andres Escobar, who failed to lose a single game, and capped off with a legendary 5-0 victory against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
Andres was regularly called upon to represent the national team, with 51 total appearances before his murder. He is fondly remembered in Colombia, especially in Medellin among Atletico Nacional fans, for his class both on and off the field.
- The Andres Escobar Murder (About.com)
- Escobar’s Own Goal (BBC Documentary)
- The Two Escobars (ESPN Documentary)
- ¿Quién estuvo detrás de la muerte de Andrés Escobar? (Kienyke)