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Sunday, July 3, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Colombia World Cup Player Gunned Down For Mistake In Game

AP: Washington Post

MEDELLIN, Colombia - Gunmen yesterday killed a Colombian soccer player who accidentally scored a goal for the United States in World Cup competition 10 days ago.

Andres Escobar, 27, died in a parking lot after an early-morning confrontation with fans apparently enraged by Colombia's 2-1 loss to the United States.

Police said Escobar was shot 12 times during the attack by three men and a woman, who surrounded him after he left a bar in Medellin, Colombia's third-largest city.

They bitterly accused him of losing the game, and then one of the men reportedly said to Escobar before shooting him: "Andres, thanks for the auto-goal, and this is your reward." Other reports said he was shot three times.

The national police reported the arrest of two suspects yesterday afternoon and said two others were being sought, including the owner of the truck that the arrested men were using. The truck owner reported his vehicle stolen Friday night, but now he can't be found.

In Colombia, where drug-related violence has claimed thousands of lives, the execution of a hard-luck soccer player sparked a profound sense of anguish.

"It is incredible that this has now reached the level of the athletes," said the mayor of Medellin, Luis Ramos Botero. "It is something you simply cannot explain."

President Cesar Gaviria described Escobar's death as "a loss which causes Colombia to mourn and which fills us with pain."

"Soccer is only a game and there's no justification for Andres to have been killed for having committed an auto-goal," said Francisco Maturana, coach of the Colombian World Cup team.

A crowd of 3,000 people thronged to the morgue.

The Medellin mayor said other Colombian World Cup players living in Medellin would be given bodyguards and a reward would be offered for the assassins' capture. The reward was set later at $62,500.

Escobar had returned with the team Wednesday after being eliminated in the first round of the World Cup.

Harsh criticism followed loss

Colombia's soccer team, with its precision and speed, was one of the favorites in the World Cup and considered a potentially profitable bet on the international waging circuit.

It was the best team Colombia had fielded, and after its 5-0 win over soccer powerhouse Argentina qualified it for the World Cup, the delirium on the streets of Bogota left almost 100 people dead.

After the loss to the United States, some of the most prominent sportscasters went on the attack, blaming players and coaches and demanding changes.

The criticism grew so heated that one columnist, writing in El Tiempo, said sportscasters were creating a dangerous situation and should be held responsible if violence against the players resulted.

After the team was eliminated, anonymous threats against the players and their coach began arriving at TV and radio stations.

In 1989, referee Alvaro Ortega was killed in Colombia, apparently by a group of gamblers linked to drug traffickers.

Escobar had left a bar on the outskirts of Medellin and gotten into his car when he was surrounded by the fans, police said.

They began haranguing him for his lackluster World Cup performance, then shot him, police said.

Escobar was a highly regarded player renowned for his clean, elegant style. He is no relation to slain drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose operations were centered in Medellin.

Horror, dismay expressed

FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, said in a statement from Dallas that it was "profoundly horrified and dismayed" by the slaying.

World Cup USA94, in a statement, expressed its horror and extended sympathies to "his family and all those who loved his stylish play.

"We deplore the violence which has taken this talented young man's life," added the statement from East Rutherford, N.J., site of Giants Stadium and a World Cup soccer venue.

At yesterday's second-round World Cup matches at RFK Stadium in Washington and at Chicago's Soldier Field, players and fans observed a moment of silence for Escobar.

World Cup coaches also were shocked by Escobar's slaying.

"It's a dreadful thing, absolutely dreadful," said Irish coach Jack Charlton in Orlando, Fla. "Who wants to play a football match if you're going to get assassinated? Who would do a thing like that?"

The killing comes at a time when many Colombians and some U.S. officials are worried about a resurgence in the drug-related violence that had diminished recently.

There are indications that the remnants of the Medellin cartel - whose members are cited as having bet heavily on the soccer team - are grouping with other, smaller drug organizations and planning an assault against the Cali cartel, now recognized as the world's most powerful cocaine traffickers.

Information from the Dallas Morning News is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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