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Tuesday, June 16, 1998 Published at 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK

World: Americas

Colombia's Cup bid a political football

Colombia met Romania in both USA 94 and France 98

The BBC South America correspondent Richard Collings reports on the high profile of football in the Colombian presidential campaign.

With less than a week to go before a second round of presidential elections in Colombia, football and events at the World Cup tournament in France are dominating the country's political scene.

[ image: Keeper Farid Mondragon tries to stop the winning goal]
Keeper Farid Mondragon tries to stop the winning goal
One of Colombia's most prominent guerrilla groups, the self-styled National Liberation Army (NLA), has said in a statement that it was not happy with the national side's prospects for victory.

Colombia went on to lose its opening game of the tournament against Romania1-0.

Not just a game

The guerrilla group's message has sparked memories of events four years ago when one Colombian player was shot dead following the country's defeat in the World Cup.

Andres Escobar, a player who accidentally scored an own goal, was shot dead within days of returning to the country.

[ image: Dejected coach fears for team's safety]
Dejected coach fears for team's safety
The NLA said if Colombia's football team was not capable of winning, then it would celebrate the victories of other Latin American sides instead. The guerrilla group also promised better opportunities for football training if it came to power.

It is unclear as yet whether the comments should be interpreted as a threat from the rebels, who have been fighting a war against the authorities for more than 40 years. But they will do nothing to reassure a very nervous Colombian side.

Death threats

The team's coach, Hernan Dario Gomez, and several players have recently received death threats. Senor Gomez said he was far more concerned about the return trip than about the tournament.

[ image: A Colombian supporter calls for peace]
A Colombian supporter calls for peace
The Colombian team's chances now haven't been helped by the fact that many players are suffering from heavy flu.

The team has also been criticised by one of the frontrunners in next weekend's presidential elections. The Liberal candidate, Horacio Serpa, said the players were just not fast enough.

In the midst of such harsh criticism, there is one voice that is calling for a more measured approach. Dario Escobar, the father of the murdered player, has been visiting Colombian schools to teach children more tolerance.

His message is a simple one: winning is not possible all the time.

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