A supporter of late Colombian footballer Andres Escobar attends a ceremony in his honor in Medellin, Colombia on July 2, 2014.
The Colombian defender Andres Escobar was killed outside a nightclub in Medellin, Colombia, on July 2, 1994, days after he scored an own goal in the 1994 World Cup against the USA, the host country of the tournament.
Twenty years later, Colombian fans and streetfootballworld, a non-profit urban culture program in more than 60 countries, are honoring Escobar's death in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Medellin, Colombia, during the 2014 World Cup.
Juergen Griesbeck, the creator of streetfootballworld, was spurred by Escobar's death to create the program to deal with urban violence through the sport of soccer.
"We started out as a response to the thousands of violent deaths of young people which occur every year [in Colombia]," Griesbeck told the AFP. "Football is not separate from social responsibility — it must be embedded in society.
Football is part of the peace process.Football is part of the peace process."
As a way to remember Escobar and stress the importance of soccer in social development, Griesbeck organized a gathering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for World Cup fans in attendance.
The same day, fans and supporters wearing Escobar's number on jerseys, hats and shirts — along with his brother Santiago Escobar, who managed the club team that his brother played for, Atletico Nacional — held a ceremony in his honor in Medellin, Colombia.
Many theories exist as to why Escobar was killed on that night 20 years ago, but it is widely believed to be the work of Colombian drug lords angered from losing costly bets due to the team's early exit in the group stages from the 1994 World Cup, according to the AFP.
In a crucial game between Colombia and the U.S., Escobar mistakenly scored an own goal, which eventually led to a Colombian defeat in a match they were favored to win. Just five days before his death, Escobar wrote "Life doesn't stop here" in a Colombia newspaper in response to Colombia's shocking exit from the tournament.
Now, in an eerie twist of fate, Colombia — energized by the brilliant performance of 22-year-old James Rodriguez — is set to play host country Brazil (whose defender Marcelo Vieira scored an own goal in Brazil's opening match against Croatia) in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup on Friday. It's Colombia's first-ever appearance in the quarterfinals and comes nearly 20 years to the day after Escobar was murdered.
The Escobar family has attended every one of Colombia's matches thus far in the tournament — sporting Colombia jerseys with Escobar's name and number 2 on the back. The family will be in attendance for Colombia's quarterfinal match and will hold a memorial service for Escobar when they return to Colombia.
Though any similarities between Colombia in 1994 and 2014 may be unsettling, soccer is the way Colombia remembers and grieves the loss of a beloved player.
"Escobar's death caused so much pain," Alejandro Arenas, coordinator of the Colombian social program Futbol con Corazon, told the AFP. "But despite the violence in Colombia, people kept playing football as a way to transcend it."
Tags: COLOMBIA, ENTERTAINMENT, SOCCER, SPORTS, URBAN, VIOLENCE, World Cup