In the days, weeks and months leading up to the 1994 World Cup, many believed Colombia had a chance of winning football’s greatest prize after their incredible 5-0 win in Buenos Aires against Argentina – a result that qualified them for their first World Cup since 1962.
Yet the problems began before they even made the journey north as they knew they had to do without their inspirational goalkeeper Rene Higuita.
He had been arrested and jailed for his involvement in a kidknapping ordered by drug baron Pablo Escobar who was heavily involved in the Colombian national game at the time.
Meanwhile as hosts, the USA were looking to improve on their poor performance in Italy four years earlier. They hoped home support and their intense training camp would see them over the line, and make it possible for them to pass the group stages for the first time in the modern era.
The Colombians were under enormous pressure from the off and when they lost their opening game against Romania after missing a host of chances, the atmosphere in the Colombian camp turned to fear.
The players’ families back home in South America were receiving death threats from gangs who were losing money on the Colombian team’s failings. The players couldn’t sleep at night and feared the consequences of their defeat. The missed chances in the Romania game haunted the strikers.
Meanwhile the USA gained a point in their first game, against Switzerland, meaning a win versus Colombia would be enough to see them through. The Colombians had to claim at least a draw.
Mistakes from both sides marked the early exchanges, but neither side could take advantage. Colombia were denied by the woodwork and some last ditch American defending in the opening half hour of the match.
The deadlock was broken via some cruel luck for Colombian defender and captain Andres Escobar…
What Happened Next?
Tragedy. Colombia lost and were out the World Cup after just two games, and far worse was to follow when they returned home.
On the night of 2nd July 1994, Andres Escobar decided to leave his apartment for the first time since the World Cup and was baited about his own goal in a nightclub.
He decided to head back to the safety of his home, but two men took out handguns and killed him in the car park.
It was one month before Escobar was due to get married, and Colombian football was robbed of a great man and player.
USA meanwhile progressed to the second round where despite having a man advantage for much of the game they lost 1-0 to Brazil.
This excellent ESPN documentary explains in great detail what exactly happened in that period in Colombia