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The rise and downfall of Colombian football

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In 1990 the Colombian national team was catapulted up the Fifa ranking after their comprehensive 5-0 victory in their away game against Argentine. Four years later an own goal and 12 gun shots send the football nation tumbling down to its demise. Here is my review of “The two Escobars”.

Atlecio Nacional was the first Colombian team ever to lift the Copa Libertadores in 1989. Amongst those lifting the trophy was defender Andres Escobar. Then, a young and promising defender. Escobar was later killed after his own goal in the World Cup in 1994. To this day Escobar is a national hero, and his pictures is often to be found in Colombian football stadiums.

As the impressive ESPN documentary “The two Escobars” shows, the rise of Colombian football was largely accomplished by the influx of money provided by drug cartels.

The rise
Amongst the drug lords providing the money, that paid the best player a satisfying amount of wages, and that lured foreign coaches to Colombia, was the most famous Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar.

Pablo Escobar was one of the drug lords that bankrolled Colombian football

Before Escobar started to invest his money into his favorite side, Atlecio National, he build football fields all around his hometown, providing underprivileged kids with the opportunity to play football. This charity of sorts enabled Escobar to meet future Colombian football greats at an early age. Most of them spent time with Escobar at his mansion, and he regarded those footballers as his friends and family.

While Escobar’s “day job” was to run a multi million drug operation that satisfied the world’s need for cocaine, his passion according to his friends and family was football.

But, Escobar wasn’t the only drug lord who laundered his money through football teams. The late 80s and early 90s saw an immense struggle for control over match officials, and match fixing in Colombian football was rampant. The national football association had turned a blind eye from whom this money that provided their temporary success was bankrolled by.

This own goal by Andres Escobar triggered the crisis Columbian football found itself in a few days later.

The downfall
Colombian football soon paid the price for being largely driven by drug money. The World Cup in 94 saw the team entering as one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. The likes of Carlos Valderrama, Faustino Asprilla, Leonel Alvarez and Adolofo Valencia were amongst the players and entire nation, and its drug cartels pinned their hopes on.

For the drug cartels the World Cup did provide an opportunity to make an obscene amount of money through gambling on the outcome of the group stages. To ensure that their investment would be worthwhile, the players were pressured by kidnappings of children and death threats to their families.

With this enormous amount of pressure the players had to enter the pitch in the “Rose Bowl” of Los Angeles, playing their final group match against the United States. The 12th minute saw US midfielder Eric Wynalda put in a cross into the Colombian 16 yard box. Defender Andres Escobar tried his all to put the cross out of play, but was unfortunate enough to direct an unstoppable ball past his own goal keeper. Escobar remained on the ground for a couple of seconds. Ten days later Escobar was shot 12 times outside a nightclub in his home town.

With Andres Escobar’s killing, and the authorities crack down on drug cartels Colombian football tumbled into its biggest crisis. The foreign coaches vanished, the clubs lacked their biggest income source, and the players were frightened after they saw what had happened to Escobar.

When Colombia participated in the World Cup in 1998 the country were 34th in the Fifa ranking. Colombia has since 1998 failed to qualify for the World Cup. In 2010 14 of the 18 teams in the highest tier of Colombian football were threatened by banktcrupcy according.

The two Escobars
Filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist have managed to find a staggering amount of fantastic archieve footage, and weaved it together with interviews of family members of both Andres and Pablo Escobar(no family relation between the two), former Colombian footballers, and a staggering amount of other sources.

Furthermore, the two of them have managed to give the almost 2 hour long movie a clear sense of direction, and allow the viewer to catch his breath when needed.

The movie goes far in suggesting that Andres Escobar would have been alive today, if Pablo Escobar hadn’t been killed before Andres Escobar’s assassination. Furthermore, the movie also suggests that the killing of Andres also could have been fueled by an argument, and overcooking egos, and not a hit organized by one of the cartels.

All in all a well researched, fantastically narrated, must see movie.

Feel free to leave a comment below.


About Niklas

Niklas Wildhagen has been following the Bundesliga for over 20 years and he is the editor in chief of the Bundesliga fanatic.

6 responses »

  1. Cristian Nyari

    It’s amazing how the legacy of what occurred in Columbia still affects that country and its football to this day.

    • I was 8 when it happened, and I still can remember where I was when I heard that Andres Escobar had been killed. The same goes for Ayrton Senna, who had died a couple of month earlier.

  2. I was a little older, watching the Colombian team unravel when they were considered impressive favorites in that World Cup. Valderamma’s hair should have at least qualified them for 2nd in their group. You just knew once that own-goal happened, something bad was going to go down. The news of Escobar’s killing though, was not the something bad though. Good post.

    • I remember watching Valderamma play for Colombia in the 98 WC, and the commentator couldn’t pronounce his name. So, he chose to call Valderamma “the man with the toilet brush haircut” for 80 of the 90 minutes he played.

  3. Ha ha! When he went to MLS for a few years, we got used to having his name butchered–every US commentator would make a mention of his hair just to cover over their linguistic failing with his name.

  4. aupasubmarino

    this was probably my first full world cup.Colombia tried the short passing game, but they seemed a step slow to make it work.It used to be tedious to watch and against US who used be 100% Route1 in those days, would defend with nine.Romario+Bebeto & Baggio were the best memories of that world cup


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