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WORLD CUP USA '94 : Fallen Star Happiest at Home in Medellin : Profile: Escobar turned down offers from European teams to stay in Colombian city.

July 03, 1994|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andres Escobar, regarded as one of the top soccer players Colombia has ever produced, was murdered outside a restaurant on the streets of Medellin, Colombia, where he grew up, found fame and ultimately his death.

Escobar, 27, might have turned fans into enemies by inadvertently scoring for the United States in a World Cup game on June 22 at the Rose Bowl.

Medellin police said Escobar died after he was shot in what might have been an argument about the goal he mistakenly scored in the 2-1 Colombia loss.

Escobar had said he had trouble sleeping for many days after the incident for which he was ridiculed and scorned.

It is an ending no one could have expected for Escobar, a left-footed defender playing in his second World Cup.

Born to a middle-class family in Medellin, Escobar played for the local Atletico Nacional club for all of his career. Noted for scoring with headers, Escobar turned professional in 1988 at 21. He made his debut for Colombia within a year.

He was on the Atletico Nacional team that in 1989 became the first Colombian team to win the South American Libertadores Cup. Colombia defeated Olimpia of Paraguay in a shootout.

In 1990, he made his World Cup debut. Colombia reached the second round in Italy. In 1991, Escobar won the Colombian title with his club, but he had trouble in 1993 when he was sidelined because of a knee injury and missed the Copa America and World Cup qualifying.

Ironically, without Escobar, Colombia had its best result in history--a 5-0 victory over highly regarded Argentina in Buenos Aires.

Escobar won back his position from Alexis Mendoza earlier this year when Colombia became one of the favorites in the World Cup.

However, Colombia lost its opener to Romania, 3-1, then lost to the United States. A 2-0 victory over Switzerland on June 26 was not enough to get Colombia into the second round.

All that was left for Escobar and the rest of the Colombians was to return home. For Escobar, that meant his beloved Medellin, a star-crossed South American city.

Medellin is home to one of the world's deadliest drug cartels, but it also is a prospering industrial center and where Escobar, no relation to slain drug lord Pablo Escobar, always said he was accorded star treatment.

But that was before Colombia lost. That was before Escobar scored for the other team. That was before Saturday morning.

Escobar said many times that he had considered signing with a European team for a larger contract, but even if he did, he said he always would return to Medellin as soon as he could.

Escobar said he would never actually leave Colombia for good.

Today, he will be buried in Medellin.

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