First published in The Age on July 4, 1994
Gunmen cried goal as they killed player
Gunmen angry at Colombias elimination from the World Cup soccer tournament yesterday killed Andres Escobar, the player who scored and own goal in the loss to the United States that sent the team sliding out of the cup.
Escobar, 27, was shot to death outside a restaurant in Medellin barely 48 hours after returning home from Los Angeles, where Colombia was beaten 2-1 by the US.
The unidentified gunmen confronted Escobar about 3am. One said: “Thanks for the auto-goal,” and then the group opened fire, shooting Escobar 12 times as they shouted “goal” after each shot. The gunmen fled in two vehicles.
Drug traffickers reportedly lost millions of dollars in bets on the Colombian team, which went into the World Cup a potential favourite but performed miserably. Police said they suspected disgruntled bettors may have ordered Escobars murder.
One group of bettors is said to have lost $10 million on Colombias upset loss to the US, and an anonymous group called a television station last week threatening revenge.
The Colombian team also received death threats during the cup, forcing coach Francisco Maturana to change his line-up minutes before the US match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
“This is a loss that plunges Colombia into mourning and fills us with pain,” Colombian President Cesar Gaviria said in a national broadcast.
Authorities announced a reward of $60,000 for information leading to the capture of the killers. Extra bodyguards were assigned to each member of the Colombian team.
Two suspects, including the alleged driver of one of the getaway cars, were arrested later yesterday.
Escobars body lay yesterday in the sports coliseum of Medellin, his home city 240 kilometres north-east of Bogota, and a funeral was scheduled for today. Escobar was to have been married in December.
Hundreds of mourners crowded the stadium while police set up barricades in an effort to trap Escobars killers.
Colombian soccer has long been connected to drug traffickers. Pablo Escobar, the cocaine baron who was killed in a shootout with police last December, was a major contributor to Medellins professional team, Ateltico Nacional, for which Andres Escobar played. The two Escobars were not related.
Colombian players had expressed hope in interviews before the World Cup tournament that their athletic virtuosity would cleanse Colombias image and win honor for it on the international stage.
“Soccer is only a game, and there is no justification for Andres to have been killed for having committed and auto-goal,” coach Maturana said.
Escobars mistake was that he accidentally knocked the ball into his own teams net, scoring the opening goal for the teams opponent, the US.
But Escobar sought to deal with his error, which he called the worst moment in his sports career. In an open letter to his country, published in a Bogota newspaper, he asks fans to “maintain decency”.
He said: “Please tell everybody (playing in the World Cup) was the most rare, phenomenal opportunity and experience I have ever had. So see you soon, because life doesnt end here”.
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