When Freddy Rincon died following a traffic accident last week, he became the fourth player from Colombia’s “golden generation” of the early 1990s to die in a shocking way.
Before Rincon, known as the “Colossus”, center-back Andres Escobar and striker Albeiro Usuriaga were shot dead in 1994 and 2004 respectively, while midfielder Herman Gaviria was struck by lightning during a training session in 2002.
On Saturday, hundreds of people paid homage to Rincon, the former Napoli, Real Madrid and Corinthians attacking midfielder, who died at the age of 55 after a collision between his vehicle and a bus in Cali.
Colombia’s first golden generation qualified for the 1990 World Cup, the country’s first in 28 years, and qualified again four years later.
After a stunning 5-0 win away to Argentina in September 1993, Colombia were widely touted as one of the favorites in the United States, only to be eliminated in the group stages.
But they started with a poor 3-1 loss to Romania and then suffered a shock 2-1 upset against the hosts as Escobar scored an own goal.
A 2-0 victory over Switzerland wasn’t enough to prevent early elimination.
The sporting fiasco turned into a tragedy for Escobar.
A few days after his return to Colombia, the Atletico Nacional player, nicknamed “The Gentleman” for his impeccable behavior, was shot six times outside a bar in Medellin by the driver of a drug trafficker apparently as punishment for the own goal. He was just 27.
Speculation swirled that Colombia’s defeat had hurt big bets by cartels, at a time when Medellin was experiencing a wave of violence due to drug trafficking.
Crime of passion
In 1989, Usuriaga and Escobar were part of the Atletico Nacional side that became the first ever Colombian winners of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League.Usuriaga’s only goal for Colombia was the one that secured qualification for the 1990 World Cup, in a 1-0 aggregate intercontinental play-off victory over Israel.
His career was marked by scandals, including a suspension in 1997 after testing positive for cocaine while playing for Argentine club Independiente.
In February 2004, Usuriaga, then 37, was shot seven times in a nightclub near his home in Cali. The authorities ruled the murder a crime of passion.
The talented Herman Gaviria, who opened the scoring in 1994 against Switzerland, was one of the few to emerge from that fiasco in the US with his reputation enhanced.
In October 2002, he died when he was struck by lightning during a training session with Deportivo Cali at the age of 32.
Other members of Colombia’s original golden generation have also had eventful lives.
Goalkeeper Rene Higuita, 55, was imprisoned between late 1993 and January 1994 for receiving illicit money for brokering the release of a kidnapped woman.He was eventually exonerated.
Rincon spent time behind bars in Brazil, where he was arrested in 2007 at the request of Panama, which was investigating him for drug money laundering. He was released after a few months and acquitted.
Rincon’s team-mate at America de Cali, striker Anthony de Avila, has been in prison since the end of last year in Italy for drug trafficking.