England might be desperate to win Tuesday’s World Cup knockout but for Colombia’s players, losing could be fatal.
Former star Andres Escobar was assassinated days after scoring an own goal in the 1994 tournament.
And police are investigating after current player Carlos Sanchez, 32, received death threats after being sent off in the 2-1 loss to Japan in game one.
One Twitter user posted a picture of Sanchez alongside a photo of Escobar and the message: “I propose a dream.”
Another said: “If Andres Escobar was killed for scoring an own goal, then Carlos Sanchez should be murdered.” A bodyguard working for a drug cartel was jailed for killing 27-year-old Escobar.
His fiancée Pamela Cascardo invited the Mirror into her home in Medellin, then the murder capital of the world, after his death. Even then she was begging fans to stop the violence and threats. But it hasn’t stopped.
Colombia has been split with drugs wars, assassination squads and the FARC guerrilla war over recent decades. And 220,000 people were killed in the conflict between 1960 and 2014.
The country’s football supporters are so ruthlessly dedicated they are putting huge pressure on their players.
Sanchez, who used to play for Aston Villa, made an emotional plea to the fans who sent him death threats.
He was warned he would be a marked man when he returns home after he became the first player sent off in this year’s tournament
The defender, on loan from Fiorentina at Spanish club Espanyol, said: “It was a difficult start to the World Cup for me.
“I received threats from many people – but to those same people I can only send a positive message because they are surely celebrating now. My message is that it is just a football match and we are going to give ourbest.”
Sanchez got a one-game ban for a handball against Japan, within three minutes of the game starting. He returned to help his team triumph against Senegal 1-0. Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life or death. I assure you it’s much more important than that.”
If England win, Sanchez can only hope fans take a different view.