Escobar’s murder in Medellin a truly tragic football tale

ANY loosed-tongued World Cup commentator tempted to describe an own goal as “a tragedy” would do well to note that yesterday, July 2, marked the 16th anniversary of the murder of Andres Escobar, the Colombian player whose final major act for his country had been to put through his own goal in a game against the host nation at USA ‘94.

You can still see the clip on YouTube: Escobar stretching to cut out a low cross from the left by John Harkes, then lying on his back on the ground, covering his face in his hands, as the ball nestles in the back of the net.

The US won the match 2-1 and Colombia finished bottom of their group.

Within 10 days, the 27-year-old was dead, shot in the parking lot of a Medellin nightclub by a man reputed to have shouted ‘Gol’ as he pumped 12 bullets into the footballer.

But was Escobar really killed for his own goal?

Certainly, rumours have long said so, on the basis that the Cali and Medellin drug cartels had gambled heavily on the outcome of the World Cup.

The courts, in contrast, found that Escobar had been killed over what Colombians call “a skirt problem”.

After approaching a girl in a nightclub, he was accosted by two men who insulted him, not just on account of his own goal, but also because of ad campaigns he’d appeared in. As the argument continued, the men’s driver stepped in and shot Escobar.

Surprisingly, in a country constantly raking over past cartel crimes, no new light has been shed on Escobar’s murder. Perhaps there really was no order from the mafia hierarchy. Uncertain, people create their own versions of the truth: a novel released to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the killing featured a football commentator who lost not just his savings but his voice at the moment the own goal went in.

Shooting Escobar was the commentator’s way of regaining the power of speech.

Whatever happened, there is little doubt that Escobar’s life would not have been in danger had heavily fancied Colombia gone on to win in ‘94 instead of exiting at the first stage – even an indignant mafioso boyfriend wouldn’t shoot a hero.

Instead, Andres Escobar most probably found that, in a bar, with tempers fraying, even a footballer’s aura doesn’t offer much protection.

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