July 2, 2014: The Past
Twenty years ago to the day, Andrés Escobar prepared to leave for a nightclub in his home town of Medellin in Colombia. Unlike the quickly evaporating after-shave slapped on his cheeks, memories of Escobar’s own-goal against USA were still moist and fresh.
It had occurred just 10 days prior, in Colombia’s second group game at the Rosebowl, Pasadena, against the hosts of the 1994 World Cup. In his attempt to curtail an attack by USA’s John Harkes, Colombia’s best defender slid on his thighs and intercepted the ball. Only, Escobar ended up deflecting the bladder past a wrong-footed goalkeeper, Oscar Cordoba.
Colombia lost 2-1, all but knocking them out of the World Cup (they eventually exited four days later at the end of the group stages) and plenty from Medellin’s notorious drug cartels lost big betting money.
Escobar and the Colombian side had the blessings of the most notorious druglord of them all, Pablo Escobar. In fact, cocaine-king Pablo owned the club that Andrés and several other national team members played for, Atletico Nacional. But with Pablo murdered by a rival cartel just seven months before the World Cup, the humiliated national side were on their own.
“‘Andrés, stay at home’, I tried to warn him,” says Francisco Maturana, Colombia’s coach at that World Cup, in a documentary called ‘The Two Escobars’. “But Andrés said ‘No, I must show my face to my people’.’’ In fact, Escobar had written something similar in a newspaper column just a day ago. In three separate paragraphs, he had written the words: “Life doesn’t end here”.
His did. Two hours after he had left home, Escobar was riddled with six bullets in the car park of the nightclub, while still strapped to his wheel. He was 27.
July 3, 2014: The Present
Colombia’s horrific past and terrific future met in Brazil today, when Escobar’s sister Maria Ester and brother Jose arrived in Rio de Janeiro on an invitation from FIFA to watch Colombia take on Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup.
At the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza tomorrow, they will wear their brother’s No. 2 jersey and hope that a history-making national side (this is the first time they have made the last eight) can proceed to the semifinals; something that was predicted for their brother’s side 20 years ago. By Pele, no less.
In the lead-up to USA ‘94, Colombia had played as gloriously and wholesomely as their captain Carlos Valderrama’s locks. They had won 25 of their 26 matches, most of those during the qualifiers — capped off with a 5-0 win continued…