(Reuters) – Former Colombia striker Faustino Asprilla has said he had to convince a hitman not to kill Paraguayan goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert after the two clashed in a World Cup qualifying match in 1997.
In a documentary broadcast on Colombian television channel TelePacifico on Tuesday, Asprilla said the gunman called his hotel room after both he and Chilavert were sent off in a qualifier in Asuncion, which Paraguay won 2-1.
The gunman, who was himself killed in a drug-related shootout in 2004, asked Asprilla for permission to kill Chilavert but the Colombian refused.
“What? Are you crazy?” Asprilla said of his response. “You’ll destroy Colombian football, you can’t do that. No, no, no, no. What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch.”
Former Parma and Newcastle player Asprilla, who turned 50 last weekend, was one of the top names in Colombian football in the 1990s and is well-known in his homeland for his colourful life both during his career and in retirement.
The incident underlines the violence in Colombia, and the once-strong links between football and the country’s powerful drug traffickers such as Pablo Escobar, who was a huge soccer fan and invested in the game, in the 1990s.
In one of the darkest chapters of football history, Colombian defender Andres Escobar was shot dead outside a bar in Medellin in 1994 in apparent retribution for an own goal he scored days earlier that hastened their exit from the World Cup in the United States.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie in London; Editing by Peter Rutherford)