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I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Andres but one mistake in a football game took him from me for ever.

DEATH threats to two of his Colombian team-mates yesterday prompted former Newcastle star Tino Asprilla to threaten to pull out of his country's side to play England in the World Cup.

Pamela Cascardo well understands Asprilla's fears. After scoring an own goal in the 1994 World Cup her fiance, Colombian soccer star Andres Escobar, was shot dead.

AT 7.57pm on June 26, Pamela Cascardo should be proudly watching her husband shake Alan Shearer's hand.

Andres Escobar should be captaining his beloved Colombia in their World Cup '98 match against England.

But Pamela will not be at the stadium. She will not even see the game on television.

In fact, she will NEVER watch a game of football again.

Her fiance Andres was assassinated by a gunman in his home city of Medellin just days after he scored an own goal in the 1994 World Cup finals.

The couple had been due to marry ten days later.

Even in Medellin - the murder capital of the world where 14 people are still killed every single DAY - there was a huge sense of shock at Andres's death.

Since his glittering career was cut short, his club Nacional have "retired" the No 2 shirt he used to wear, saying no player will ever wear it again.

As we sit in Pamela's elegant apartment near the centre of Medellin, Nacional are playing a match at their stadium 800 yards away.

She can hear the crowd chanting his name before the kick-off, as they do at every match.

Despite the pain of losing Andres, she has bravely refused to move away. She displays the same courage he did when he came home to confront his critics.

She says: "They had criticised him on the radio and he wanted to face them. He said, 'I am not going to hide because I have done nothing wrong'.

"I just thought they were being immature. We all make mistakes and if we start criticising each other's errors we will never stop."

SHE recalls: "When I picked him up from the airport he seemed happy to be home. He had turned down a holiday in the U.S. with his family and also an offer of work as a commentator for Colombian radio at the World Cup.

"Not for a moment did I think he was in danger. Everyone seemed so eager to cheer him up. There was no hint of violence.

"Although this city is violent, you never think about it unless it actually reaches you. I had never had a relative killed or even seen violence up close. That's why I was so shocked when Andres was shot."

Pamela's eyes moisten as she recalls that fateful day in July 1994. That very same night in Medellin, 39 other people lost their lives.

She says: "Andres was downstairs, here at the apartment. He was doing a TV interview, saying how he was trying to see the positive side of things.

"He wanted to go out with his friends. I was tired, so he went without me.

"Then at 3am the telephone went - I still don't know who it was. They said there had been an accident. I saw my mother's face and I knew that Andres was dead. I had no idea how or why." Pamela, 30 and a qualified dentist, now knows that the man who murdered her fiance was Humberto Munoz, a bodyguard working for two notorious Medellin brothers.

That evening the brothers had argued with Andres and taunted him with shouts of "own goal, own goal!"

As Andres left the club and climbed into his car, Munoz walked up to him, called him "a faggot" and pulled out a .38 revolver and shot him six times.

FRIENDS pushed Andres's bleeding body into the back of a taxi to take him to hospital. He was dead on arrival.

Munoz is now serving 42 years in jail for the killing. His bosses, Juan Santiago and Pedro David Gallon, were never charged. It is widely believed that Colombia's World Cup defeat by Andres's one own goal may have cost them large amounts of money.

And it is a sad reflection on Colombian life that the man who identified Munoz as the killer was given a new identity and told to leave the country. The authorities knew he would be killed if he was allowed to stay.

Pamela is still struggling to come to terms with what happened that night. Indeed, she wonders if she ever will.

"I still can't really understand it - how someone as good as him could have been killed in that way.

"Andres was so well-loved. He had such charisma. He took the own goal and the defeat much better than I did. I saw it happen here in this apartment. I was very sad about it. He had to console me."

THE four years since Andres was killed have not been easy Pamela. "At the time of his death I just didn't want to be alive because of the pain," she says.

"We had a wonderful relationship. This was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

"Next month, I would have been watching him playing for Colombia against England. The World Cup is something that makes everyone else happy, but it makes me sad.

"I won't be watching the game, or any other. I just cannot watch football any more. It hurts too much.

"This country has a great fever for football and when the World Cup comes around it should be a time of great joy and that's why it is hard.

"It's something I would like to overcome - this sadness."

There has been no boyfriend to replace Andres. Instead, she cherishes her memories of her fiance's triumphs on the football field and of what might have been.

Andres, 27 when he died, lived long enough to score only two goals in his international career.

One was a header past Peter Shilton against England at Wembley in 1988. The other was the own goal that cost him his life.

But his skill was such that he was tipped to captain the Colombian team in next month's World Cup. And at his funeral, tens of thousands lined the streets.

His body lies in a leafy cemetery little more than a mile away from Pamela's home. But she just cannot bring herself to visit his graveside. "It is just too sad for me. It hurts me in my heart," she says.

I called in on a Sunday afternoon. Flowers and messages were everywhere. One read: "Andres: The Gentleman Footballer - we miss you."

Pamela and Andres met through mutual friends and had been together five years.

When he was so swiftly and brutally removed from her life, Pamela thought briefly of leaving Medellin and Columbia for ever and starting a new life.

"I had two choices," she says. "I could let them win, or I could rise above it. I chose to go on. Anyway, I believe that you carry everything that you have done in your life with you in your heart, no matter where you live.

YOU can't erase something like Andres's death. There is no surgery that can remove it. So now I am pleased I chose to stay.

"One of the things Andres left me with was always to look to the positive. Now I do.

"When he was killed I had letters from all over the world - from radio stations to convents. I was so upset at the time, I did not realise how good everyone was. But now I realise how beautiful these gestures were."

She never thinks about the killer of the man she loved. "I don't wish him ill or a terrible life in jail.

"His punishment is carrying the burden of what he did - killing a man because he scored an own goal. I believe that, and that alone, is why Andres died."

Both she and Andres's father, Don Dario Escobar, have found comfort in the way Andres has been remembered by football fans everywhere.

"The fans have kept Andres's memory alive and they have guarded it well," Pamela says.

"As for me, I am very happy to have shared a part of my life with Andres. He enriched my life. I feel a different person - a very special person to have known him."

Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said: "Some people think football is a matter of life or death - I can assure you it's much more important than that."

With good reason, Pamela Cascardo does not agree.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Lines, Andy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 20, 1998
Words:1428
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