On the 5th September 1993, the Colombian national football team took to the field in the Estadio Monumental De River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A match against Argentina was the last obstacle before the inevitable qualification for the 1994 Fifa World Cup. Having already beaten the likes of Peru 4-0 and Argentina at home during the qualification campaign, many expected Colombia to win. However nobody would have expected the 5-0 thrashing given by Colombia to a strong Argentine side. Goals by Freddy Rincón, Faustino Asprilla and Adolfo Valencia (Whittal, 2013) made many, including the legendary football player Pelé to choose Colombia as their favourite to win the World Cup. Pelé infamously said in 1994 that “Colombia es mi Favorito Para ser Campeón del Mundo”(“Colombia is my favourite to be Champions of the world”) (Falco, 2009).

Almost simultaneously to the pinnacle of Colombian football in the twentieth century was the peak of the notorious drug trade and drug cartels whose violence and power plagued the country for decades. The death of the drug baron Pablo Escobar on the 2nd December 1993 marked this apex of influence of the drug cartels on Colombian society. As reported by the Los Angeles Times in December 1993, "The (Medellin) cartel has been dismantled with the death of Pablo Escobar."[1]

It is no coincidence that the rise and fall of the drug cartels as the country knew them, ran almost parallel in time with the rise and fall of Colombian football in the late twentieth century. Football clubs were vehicles for the drug cartels to launder and stash their illegal money. However they were also a way for the drug barons to give something back to the local community, an impoverished community from which they themselves were once part of. Ultimately the investment into football at all levels gave way to an unprecedented improvement in the quality of football in Colombia.


[1] Steven Ambrus, Colombia Drug Lord Escobar Dies in Shootout, Los Angeles Times (03/12/1993).