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Rene Higuita's return to Colombian soccer delights a country

Rene Higuita's return to Colombian soccer delights a country

Though one of the finest goalkeepers to emerge from South America, Rene "El Loco" Higuita's return to Colombian soccer at the age of 41 has been less than glittering.
After a stint playing soccer in baseball-obsessed Venezuela, Higuita came home late last year to play for second-division Deportivo Rionegro in a small rural town in northern Colombia. The team is ranked second in its group.
While the fans have been ecstatic for the reappearance of a national hero, there have been some embarrassments for the overweight goalkeeper, such as the ball that breezed through his legs for a goal.
But then some might say nothing has changed with Higuita, who was nicknamed El Loco, the Madman, by former Colombia coach Francisco Maturana.
From a generation of talented players, Higuita helped lead Atletico Nacional to the Copa Libertadores title in 1989, and qualified Colombia for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
With an audience of billions, the World Cup was the perfect stage for a natural showman like Higuita. But his most famous act of eccentricity also eliminated the team. Against Cameroon, he was stripped of the ball outside of the box by Roger Milla, who scored into an empty net.
Other risks were worth it for the magic he brought to the game. In 1995 in a friendly against England at Wembley, he pulled off his "scorpion" save. As the ball soared in to goal, Higuita dived forward and curled his legs up like a scorpion's tail and heeled the ball to safety.
Higuita's retirement from international football coincided with a decline in Colombia's fortunes. Colombia hasn't qualified for the past two World Cups.
His life off the pitch matched the fireworks he could bring to any ninety minutes on it. There were accusations of friendship with the late drug lord Pablo Escobar and drug use. He was even imprisoned after he tried to mediate between kidnappers and a friend whose daughter was abducted.
Without the anchor of football, in recent years Higuita seemed to lose his way, leaving behind the game for clowning on the TV reality show circuit. He even appeared on the Colombian version of "Extreme Makeover."
But he returned to his true calling in July 2007, playing for Venezuela's Guaros del Lara. It ended months later amid complaints he wasn't being paid.
"He's a little overweight, but with his experience he always beat the young kids of Bajo Cauca one on one, and that was sufficient," Rionegro manager Mariano Petro told El Colombiano newspaper after Sunday's 0-0 draw with Bajo Cauca.
And he's put the legendary partying behind him, preferring the quieter family life in a farm near his home town of Medellin.
"First I had the challenge of being the youngest in professional football in Colombia," he told El Tiempo newspaper, "and now I am the oldest,"


Updated : 2020-12-01 20:32 GMT+08:00