FIFA 2014

Escobar anniversary a reminder for Colombia

This week marks two milestones for Colombia: one a reminder of dark days past and another a symbol of hope to come for a country trying to reinvent itself.

Colombia fans have been swept up in optimism ahead of a first-ever World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil.

At Colombia’s camp on the outskirts of Sao Paulo there is one word you hear more than any other. Dream.

The group of fans hanging around on the dirt road outside the unprepossessing training ground where Sao Paulo Futebol Clube’s youth teams practise use it repeatedly.

The journalists who can barely contain their excitement at the prospect of Friday’s quarterfinal against Brazil whisper it. And Jose Pekerman’s players, while trying manfully to stick to the “one game at a time” script, cannot help but imagine what might lie beyond.

This week marks two milestones for Colombia: one a reminder of dark days past and another a symbol of hope to come for a country trying to reinvent itself.

July 2 is the 20th anniversary of the murder of Andres Escobar, gunned down in Medellin days after turning a John Harkes cross into his own net at the 1994 World Cup.

Then on Friday, competing in its first World Cup since 1998, Colombia will play in its first ever quarterfinal, against the host in Fortaleza.

Skill and style

Backed by vociferous support, and all the more impressive given the absence of injured striker Radamel Falcao, it has reached it with a skill and style that has captured the hearts and minds of neutrals.

James Rodriguez has announced himself as one of the best players on the planet and scored perhaps the goal of the tournament in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay that sparked wild celebration in Brazil and at home. Colombians joyful, choreographed goal celebrations, which have become a You Tube hit at a World Cup of which social media has felt an integral part, have not hurt either.

Carlos Sanchez, the unsung hero of Colombia’s midfield who provides the platform for its liquid attack to perform, admits the most difficult task will be the mental side of the game when it lines up against the host.

“The emotional aspect is the most important thing to handle because this is a very important match for us. It will take its toll on the emotional condition of all of us,” says Sanchez, the holding midfielder nicknamed “The Rock” who may be asked to mark Neymar.

Yet there is also an acknowledgement that the pressures on Brazil are greater still. Sanchez made his first competitive international start in a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw with Brazil in 2007 and was credited with marking Lionel Messi out of the game against Argentina during the 2011 Copa America. Just as all in the Colombian camp acknowledge the stellar contribution of Rodriguez but argue that the collective is more important, so Sanchez is keen to insist that Brazil is not a one-man team.

While no one around the Colombian camp really wants to talk about it, there is a counterpoint to its success that simply cannot be ignored.


Escobar’s death in a Medellin nightclub car park, apparently in connection with the own goal at a time when Colombia’s rapid rise in world football had been underpinned by drug money, caused deep shockwaves in his own nation and abroad.

“One should not think about bad things in positive moments,” the former Colombia defender Jorge Bermudez told the news agency this week. But he added: “We will never stop thinking about him or feeling that he is one of our own. Every Colombia triumph will also be, in some way, his.”

A golden generation of players, subjected to threats and intimidation before and after the tournament, felt conflicted about playing for the country.

Twenty years on, a Twitter campaign under the hashtags #football2me and #AndresEscobar has taken off, with a string of messages honouring his memory and celebrating football as a force for good.

A 2010 ESPN documentary, The Two Escobars, hauntingly explored the links between Andres, a tragic victim of Colombia’s lawlessness, and his namesake Pablo, the murderous drug overlord who was himself shot dead months earlier.

If the 1994 Colombian players were playing under unimaginable, intolerable pressure, 20 years on their successors are playing with joy and unabashed freedom. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 5:58:14 PM |

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