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Colombia honours Escobar

03 July 2014, 08:06

Medellin -  Colombia paid tribute Wednesday to football star Andres Escobar, who was gunned down 20 years ago just days after scoring an own goal at the World Cup finals.

The killing, widely said to be an act of revenge for the 27-year-old defender's own goal, set off international controversy and put a spotlight on Colombia's notorious gun culture.

The act still resonates, particularly ahead of Colombia's World Cup quarter final against Brazil on Friday.

The city of Medellin, where he was murdered, honoured Escobar with a football match, cultural events and flowers. "I still wonder why they killed him," his brother Santiago Escobar said at one ceremony.

Carlos Valderrama, the team's goalkeeper at the time and biggest star, expressed his sadness on Twitter.

"Andres Escobar -- always in our hearts. We will never forget your kindness, humility and your fight. I miss you my brother," he wrote.

Colombia were playing the United States in a group match on June 24, 1994 when Escobar tragically diverted a John Harkes cross into his own net. Colombia lost 2-1 and were eliminated from the tournament.

After, Escobar said "life doesn't end here". He started negotiating a transfer to Italian giants AC Milan.

But 10 days later, on July 2, Escobar was harangued about his own goal inside a Medellin bar. The argument went on the car park outside. He was killed with 12 bullets. Witnesses heard the word "gol" shouted after each shot.

A rap band, 12 Pasos Flow, wrote a song his honour, dubbing him the "Gentleman of Football" who "died for a mistake."

"He had a date with death the moment he scored that goal," Gonzalo Medina, author of the book on the murder, told AFP.

Some accounts have blamed drug lords or gangsters, angry at losing money betting on Colombia. But no firm motive for the killing has ever been given.

His family is angry that the investigation has never gotten to the bottom of the crime.

Only one person was arrested, Humberto Munoz, the driver of two bar customers who had mocked Escobar for the own-goal.

Munoz was released after serving 11 years in prison.

"Justice was never served," his brother Santiago said. "It was a sad time for our country."

A ceremony honouring Escobar was also held in Rio de Janeiro, one of the World Cup host cities.

"Today, we are celebrating Andres' legacy," said Juergen Griesbeck, a German former academic moved by the shooting of Escobar to create footballstreetworld, a non-profit urban culture movement now present in some 60 countries.

Griesbeck said he set up streetfootballworld in 2002 as his response to urban violence, using the Escobar case as a touchstone.

"We started out as a response to the thousands of violent deaths of young people which occur every year" in Colombia.

Some Colombian fans at this year's World Cup in Brazil have carried pictures of Escobar to games.

Alejandro Arenas, coordinator of Colombian NGO Football and Peace, said: "Escobar's death caused so much pain.

"But despite the violence in Colombia people kept playing football as a way to transcend it," he said.

"Escobar inspired us to use football as a tool constructing social identity, reflecting the country."



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