One of football’s darkest moments
Football is the most popular sport in the world, but beyond that, it is a way of life in many cultures. And, as Andrés Escobar Saldariaga discovered, there is a way to die.
His respect and integrity
So how did a player dubbed “The Gentleman” for his respect and vision on the pitch and his club’s “Immortal Second Place” end up becoming a murder victim after the 1994 World Cup?
This is the story of Andrés Escobar Saldarriaga: the Colombian soccer player who was murdered in cold blood by a member of the cartel for one mistake.
Escobar was born on March 13, 1967 in Medellin, the third most populated city in Colombia. His father, Dario, was a banker who founded an organization that gives young people the opportunity to play organized football instead of indulging in a life of poverty and crime on the streets.
Escobar grew up in a middle-class family and attended school throughout college, playing soccer all the way through. After graduating, he transitioned into professional soccer full-time.
His brother, Santiago, was also a professional player who later went into management.
Escobar has enjoyed a successful playing career as a central defender. He made 78 appearances over four years for Atlético Nacional, a professional team based in Medellin, before accepting a transfer to Young Boys in Switzerland. He made just eight appearances in Europe, returning to Atlético after less than a year.
During his final year in his first stint with his home team, Escobar played a crucial role in helping his team win the 1989 Copa Libertadores, an annual international competition between the top teams in South America. They beat Paraguayan club Olimpia on penalties 2-2 (5-4) in the final to win the first of two Copa Libertadores titles in the club’s history. It also made them the first Colombian team to win the competition.
Obtaining international recognition
Escobar made his debut for the Colombian national team in 1988 at the age of 21 in a 3-0 win over Canada. He also scored the only goal of his career in a 1-1 draw with England on his debut in a national-level competition during the 1988 Ross Cup.
In 1990, Colombia won their World Cup qualifying group and Escobar was at the center of defence. She then won a playing match she had to participate in due to her low score and secured a place in the 1990 World Cup.
At the World Cup, Colombia got into an unfavorable group with eventual champions West Germany, along with Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirates, Colombia finished third in the group with three points (a win was worth 2 points at the time) with a goal difference of +1. She still qualified for the round of 16.
Escobar appeared in every game and established himself as a reputable rookie at just 22 years old.
Colombia’s run through the knockouts did not last long, as they were knocked out 2-1 in overtime by Cameroon in the first round. Escobar appeared in every game and established himself as a reputable rookie at just 22 years old.
The young defender made seven appearances during the following year’s Copa América, but did not take part in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers. At the time, he was reportedly offered a contract by Italian giants AC Milan, who won the Supercoppa Italiana for three years in a row and went on to win the Supercoppa Italiana for three years in a row. Winning the European Super Cup 1994 2-0 over Arsenal.
With his international reputation growing, he was brought back into the Colombia squad for the 1994 World Cup. Unbeknownst to him, this would be the first step towards his tragic death.
World Cup incident
The USA hosted the 94 World Cup, where they were dropped along with Romania and Switzerland in Group A with Colombia.
The South American representatives lost their opening match 3-1 to Romania and then faced the United States four days later. In the 35th minute and with the score at 0-0 complicated, Escobar found himself falling back in midfield as the United States attacked.
USA midfielder John Harkes crossed low about 10 yards outside the penalty area from the center left side of the field. Escobar stretched to intercept the pass but inadvertently directed the ball into the middle of his own goal. Goalkeeper Óscar Córdoba had already committed himself to attack, believing that Escobar would not be able to get to the ball, and was unable to stop his momentum and return to position.
The ball flowed into the back of the net and gave the stars and stripes the penetrating goal. They later scored another goal in the 52nd minute and won the match 2–1 to put them four points through two games (wins had been changed to three points by this time).
Colombia won their final match against Switzerland, but finished last in the group and were sent home from the tournament. Escobar had the opportunity to visit family in Las Vegas, Nevada, but chose to return home to Colombia.
Shortly after the World Cup ended, Escobar was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “[The World Cup has] It was an amazing and rare experience. We will see each other again soon because life does not end here.”
Little did he know that his decision to go home was about to be proven wrong.
Five days after his country was eliminated from the World Cup, Escobar and a few friends decided to go out and enjoy the nightlife in Medellin. They start their night at a bar and later visit a liquor store before ending up at the El Indio nightclub.
At about 3 am and after a night of partying, Escobar found himself in his car in the El Indio parking lot. His friends had already dispersed and he was on his own.
Suddenly a group of three men emerge from the darkness and surround Escobar’s car. An argument ensued, and two of the unexpected visitors held up .38-caliber handguns. A few moments later, the helpless Escobar was shot six times.
The killer allegedly shouted “Jules!” (“Aim!”) between each shot
Witness accounts show that the killer shouted “Ogre!” (“Goal!”) between each take, referring to the number of times the Colombian announcer shouted “¡Gol!” After Escobar’s misstep against the United States. The men then got into a car and drove off, leaving the 27-year-old to bleed out.
Escobar was discovered and taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later. Humberto Castro Muñoz, a bodyguard for a local drug cartel, was arrested the next day and confessed to the murder.
Part of Castro’s nefarious activities saw him work as a chauffeur for Santiago Galón, the leader of the Galón Cartel. Gallon allegedly lost a large amount of money betting on Columbia in the match against the United States of America, which proved the motive for the murder.
More than 120,000 people attended Escobar’s funeral in Colombia. In 2002, he was honored with a statue in his hometown of Medellin.
After the murder of Andres Escobar
Castro was convicted of killing Escobar in 1995 and was initially sentenced to 43 years in prison, but his sentence was reduced to 26 years in 2001. He was then released from prison in 2005 due to a change in prison work and study rules.
Popular rumor has it that the Gallón brothers bribed prosecutors to focus their case on Castro, who was allegedly carrying out orders from Santiago Gallón. Prosecutors were ultimately unable to provide credible evidence linking Gallon to the murder. Escobar’s fiancee, Pamela Cascardo, believes the allegations of bribery are true due to the relatively short sentence.
In 2013 Francisco Maturana, a former Venezuelan player and manager of Atlético Nacional, said that Escobar’s murder had nothing to do with the 1994 World Cup and was a by-product of being in a dangerous area late at night.
Andres Escobar is widely loved by Colombian soccer fans. He is reported to have brought an image of cleanliness and stoicism at a time when the country was tainted by crime and poverty.