Colombian Cup Player Shot To Death

Posted: July 03, 1994

The Colombian soccer player who inadvertently helped the United States to a World Cup win by knocking the ball into his own team's goal was gunned down by irate countrymen after a quarrel yesterday outside a nightclub in the Colombian drug capital of Medellin, police said.

Andres Escobar, 27, a Colombian defender whose blunder - known as an "own- goal" - contributed to the team's 2-1 loss to the United States 10 days ago, was killed in a parking lot around 3 a.m. Police said he was struck by 12 bullets when three men surrounded him after he left the nightclub and a loud argument ensued.

"Thanks for the own-goal," one of the gunmen said before shooting Escobar, an unidentified witness told a radio reporter.

According to another report, each time the killers pumped a bullet into Escobar, they shouted: "Goal!"

Colombia, a country with the highest peacetime murder rate in the world, was considered a strong World Cup title contender. But the team lost its first two games, to Romania and the United States, and failed to advance to the second round, which started yesterday. The team returned home last week at the conclusion of the first round.

"This is the saddest day I have ever witnessed in football, in a World Cup or any other competition," said Sepp Blatter, general secretary of FIFA, the world governing body of soccer. "If something happens by accident, you can say it was the will of God. But when people deliberately shoot and kill somebody because he made a mistake in the game, something is wrong."

Colombia's national police reported the arrest of two suspects yesterday afternoon and said two others were being sought.

Speculation in Colombia immediately centered on the possible role of the

drug cartels in Escobar's murder. The former head of the Medellin drug cartel, Pablo Escobar, was no relation to the slain player.

Ignacio Gomez, head of an investigative unit for El Espectador, one of the leading newspapers in Colombia, said his paper planned to report today that the Medellin cartel was involved in Andres Escobar's murder. The Medellin cartel apparently believed that Escobar had knocked the ball into the net at the behest of the rival Cali cartel, Gomez said.

Gomez, co-author of a 1987 book on how the drug cartels control many of the professional soccer clubs in Colombia, said the paper had no evidence that Escobar had deliberately scored the own-goal.

Escobar was a player for Atletico Nacional, a team allegedly controlled by the Medellin cartel, which was run by Pablo Escobar before the drug lord was gunned down by police in December.

Colombia was reeling yesterday from the murder.

President Cesar Gaviria described Andres Escobar's death as "a loss which causes Colombia to mourn and which fills us with pain."

Hundreds poured into Medellin's sports stadium to view the open coffin containing Escobar's body. "Justice!" one man shouted.

Medellin Mayor Luis Alfredo Ramos said other Colombian World Cup players living in Medellin would be given bodyguards. After Colombia was eliminated

from World Cup play, anonymous threats against the players and their coach began arriving at TV and radio stations.

In 1989, referee Alvaro Ortega was killed in Colombia, apparently by a group of gamblers linked to drug traffickers. Earlier, a club executive had been kidnapped and killed.

This year's Colombian team also received death threats during the World Cup, forcing coach Francisco Maturana to change his lineup minutes before the U.S. match.

"Soccer is only a game, and there's no justification for Andres to have been killed," said Maturana, who quit after Colombia's elimination.

"The popularity of our game has two faces," FIFA's Blatter said. "The first face produces joy and enthusiasm and brings people together, as we have witnessed at the World Cup here. And on the other face, the game mirrors our life.

"It has violence, tears, corruption. Like life, it has all its problems."

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