Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 30-The Tragic Mistake of Andres Escobar (1994)

To be honest Colombia coming into the 1994 World Cup were looking smoking hot. No team from South America since 1950 had ever swaggered into a World Cup looking like they would break the Brazil/Argentina stranglehold on their continent’s hopes and go further in the tournament than your Peru, Uruguay etc had done in recent times. The side was still captained by Carlos Valderamma, the man who looked like the offspring of a troll doll and Cheech Matrin with a haircut that defies description that he still sports even to this day. The side also featured the stoic defenders Luis Herrera and Andreas Escobar, midfield dynamo Freddy Rincon and the one and only Faustino Asprilla who was still at Parma at the time and yet to descend on an unsuspecting Newcastle United like Beetlejuice.

In qualifying the countries in South America were split in two different groups and Colombia dominated after finishing a respectable third in the 1993 Copa America. Without losing a game in six matches they conceded only two goals and destroyed sides with 13 goals in all including their historic thrashing of Argentina IN Argentina 5-0, the 2-1 win against the Argies at home in the same campaign was Argentina’s first loss in 30 matches. The impressive run by Colombia meant they were made favourites for the World Cup in the US. Colombia were drawn in Group A that would see them up against their greenhorn hosts USA, the Roy Hodgson led Switzerland and the always dangerous Romania, a team in yellow who themselves were fancying themselves for their own success at the tournament.

Things weren’t exactly going well for Colombia before the tournament started with allegations of match fixing, heavy betting and the involvement of that gun toting stereotype that is the Colombian drug cartel. Midfielder Barabas Gomez was mysteriously dropped from the final squad when not injured or out of form which led to more rumours of outside influence. Perhaps these were just rumours because of the fact it was Colombia. The opening match would be able to tell the world. In the first match they played the Romanians who defended in deep and let the Colombians come at them with their trickery. Despite their domination of possession the Colombians looked on edge and lacked that killer punch which they paid for when Romania went ahead after 16 minutes. Colombia went on the attack again but were 2-0 down when the brilliant Hagi lobbed the keeper. With Colombia getting it back to 2-1 before half-time Stelea repelled chance after chance and held the Romanians together before they finally put the result to bed with a second to Raducioiu.

Next up for the Colombians would be the hosts at the massive Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the site of the final for this tournament. Colombia again went on the attack and the American grimly hung on with Balboa clearing off the line early in the match and his defensive partner Lalas holding sway. On the half hour disaster struck for Colombia. The US attacked down the right with Harkes crossing in trying to find Stewart. Getting to the ball before Stewart was a lunging Escobar who managed to get a foot to the ball to deflect out of the way of Stewart (who would have tapped it in easily) but the ball also beat the keeper and went in to the net as an own goal. The Colombians tried desperately to get an equaliser and keep their heads above water but the US were constantly dangerous on the attack and scored again after 56 minutes with Stewart tapping in a fierce shot through the Colombia defence. Valencia again scored for Colombia but it was only minutes to spare and it was all over, 2-1 US and Colombia needing a miracle to stay in the hunt for the second round.

That miracle would be that the Colombians would have to beat the Swiss in the final match and hope that the US would defeat Romania. The Colombians held up their end of the bargain with the side finally finding the net like they did so often in qualifying, Gaviria and Lozano scoring in a 2-0 win. The Romanians though didn’t want to really help Colombia considering it would mean they were out and they snuck past the US 1-0 and therefore knocked Colombia out, one of the big favourites gone in the first round.

This was supposed to be the end of Colombia in the news for this World Cup but unfortunately this would not be the case. Instead of being limited to blooper videos and highlight docos about their failure they would be in the news again. Ten days after the players returned to Colombia there was a shooting. Escobar, who sat in a local bar in Medellin, was dragged into an argument with three people, one of them, Humberto Castro Munoz, was the driver of a man from Medellin who had allegedly lost money from this game and decided to kill Escobar. The murderers took Andres outside to the parking lot and then Castro shot 12 times and killed the 27-year-old talented defender. The details of the killing didn’t end there. After every shot, Castro screamed “GGGooaalll” like the South American commentators. He was arrested soon after and sentenced to the jail for 43 years in 1995. In 2001, his punishment was reduced to 23 years and it was even more disgraceful when he was released from prison on October 2005 for good behavior, only 11 years since he took the life of an innocent person. The judge’s name wasn’t published because the angry Colombian public might try to hurt him for having released Castro.

The news of the death caused shockwaves around the world, even in non-footballing countries such as Australia (if anyone else can remember Lex Marinos being disgusted when finding out live on ABC TV after it happened) and (obviously) the US where the tournament was being held. It was not known if Escobar had been shot because one of the gambling syndicates had put money on Colombia to get out of the group, drug dealers who were involved with such syndicates or the man being a crazed fan. The whole incident did not make Colombia shake their stereotype as a crime infested drug hole with the death but Colombian football fans came out in their droves for the funeral as a showing of solidarity over what happened. 120,000 in all attending the service with placards for Escobar and handmade signs proclaiming they would not bow down to the violence of the criminal element in their country. To this day football fans still dress up Escobar’s grave with flags and scarves. The BBC were also forced to broadcast an apology after former Liverpool defender, pundit and general dickhead Alan Hansen had said “That Argentini

an defender needs shooting for a mistake like that”.

Andres’s father, Dario Escobar, never recovered from his son’ s death. He founded an organization of football which prevented young children from being in the streets and gave them the opportunity to play football. He was deeply depressed by the judge’s decision to release the murderer in 2005 and said that “unfortunately Colombia doesn’t have justice system”. He passed away on January 2008 at the age of 77.

 

Andres also has a brother, the coach Santiago “Sachi” Escobar Saldarriaga. Santiago led Atletico Nacional to win the championship in 2005 and also coached Once Caldas and Junior Barranquilla. The sport suffered in Colombia following the tragedy too. While Colombia made it to France 98 they were again eliminated in the first round and then spent years in the football wilderness except for the hosting of the Copa America that was weighed down with security and paranoia. To this day it’s a chilling moment from the World Cup. How some poor bastard putting his keeper the wrong way and scoring an own goal would result in him being shot to death is a permanent reminder of what rides on some of these games and it’s more than just 22 people running around a pitch. Descanse en paz Andres.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Leave a Comment

*