Euro 2024: Calafiori own goal brings back memories of Escobar tragedy

The ball deflected from his knee into the net. Overcome by embarrassment, he lay face down on the ground for a few seconds before getting up.
Riccardo Calafiori, front, scores an own goal during a Group B match between Spain and Italy at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Thursday, June 20, 2024.
Riccardo Calafiori, front, scores an own goal during a Group B match between Spain and Italy at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Thursday, June 20, 2024.(Photo | AP)

He was hailed as Italy's rising star at Euro 2024. The championship was expected to be the 22-year-old centre-back's comeback story. But the mighty do fall. Riccardo Calafiori's own goal floored his team thereby helping Spain race into the last 16.

Calafiori, who signed his first professional contract with Roma at the age of 16, faced a career threatening injury in a UEFA Youth league match against Viktoria Plzen. He ruptured all the ligaments in his right knee. According to GOAL, a medic actually said that such an injury happens only once every 10 years. He could only play after 347 days. But more hardships awaited him.

He could not find a place in Jose Mourinho’s Roma. He was loaned to Genoa and then sold to Basel. Both these stints were not very fruitful. Then, he was bought by Bologna. 

It was under Thiago Motta that he found his form. He helped Bologna qualify for the Champions League. Comparisons were made to Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro -- two of the greatest defenders to grace the game. In no time, he was called to be part of Spalletti’s Italy squad for Euro 2024.

In the first match against Albania, he delivered. He was cool with the ball at his feet and was winning duels. Being Italy’s second youngest defender in Euros history, everyone believed the baton had been successfully passed from the hands of veterans Chiellini and Bonucci. 

Then came the team of reckoning and its name was Spain. Beating Croatia 3-0, they were hungry for more. The match between Italy and Spain was seen as the clash of two titans. 

Spain dominated the match. But Donnarumma was the wall they couldn’t get through -- before disaster struck Italy in the form of an own goal from their defensive hero, Calafiori.

Riccardo Calafiori, front, scores an own goal during a Group B match between Spain and Italy at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Thursday, June 20, 2024.
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The ball deflected from his knee into the net. Overcome by embarrassment, he lay face down on the ground for a few seconds before getting up. Calafiori became the first Italian to score an own goal in the history of the Euros. But there is another reason why football fans may remember this goal. 

It brought back memories of one of the most tragic incidents in football history. Back in 1994, an own goal cost Colombia's Andres Escobar his life. Though the matches involved different teams in different tournaments, there are a few resemblances. 

Both players were trying to block a pass when the ball deflected off their legs into the goal. Both were playing as central defenders. It was also the second game of their respective groups for Colombia and Italy. However, there the similarity ends. Nothing like what happened to Escobar can happen here. 

Both goals can only be attributed to bad luck. In the match against Spain, the Italian team as a whole was at fault for not having their heads in the game. Let’s hope that Calafiori is able to shrug off this setback and end up as the great he is capable of being. 

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