Source: Imago Images
Source: Imago Images

When goalkeepers score: the goals that were overshadowed by the show, drug ties and scorpion kick save

Football OlyBet 25.04.2024

Scoring goals is a real art in football, which of course is best done by strikers. However, some midfielders and defenders are undeniably good at it too – we have already introduced you to the latter on Olybet.TV. 

However, it can happen sometimes that the goalkeeper’s name also appears on the scoreboard, and it is not connected with an own goal. We’ll now introduce you to these extraordinary goalies as part of another ten-part series. 

5th place – René Higuita (43 goals)

If you score 43 goals in your career as a goalkeeper, you’d think that’s what you’re known for. However, this is not the case with René Higuita – he is known above all for scorpion kick. This and the VERY colorful career of the Colombian in general is what we’re gonna tell you about below.

Born on August 27, 1966, in the suburbs of Medellin, Colombia’s cocaine capital, Higuita had a rough childhood. His father, Jorge, left the family when René was still a baby, and his mother, Maria Dioselina, passed away before he went to school. He was raised by his grandmother Ana Felisa.

Football as a way out

As a result of this and the generally poor standard of living in the region, Higuita grew up in poverty, which is why he had to seek employment already as a teenager. Just to help his grandmother (and himself) make ends meet.

However, Higuita spent all his free moments on the field close to home, where he played football with his friends – it was his escape from the harsh daily life in Colombia. At one point he caught the eye of the people of the local club Millonarios, who invited him to practice.

There, Higuita blossomed quickly, but it is important to emphasize that at first, he was a striker and the best goal scorer in various youth tournaments. But if the main goalkeeper of Millonarios got injured in one of the 5 vs. tournament, Higuita was asked to help the team out. However, he proved to be so skilled between the posts that he soon took his place there permanently.

Rise to stardom under Escobar’s eyes

Higuita made his professional debut in 1985, still for Millonarios. At just 19 years old, he played for them in 16 matches, where he also scored 7 goals. This, of course, from penalties and penalty kicks.

Soon enough he caught the eye of the city rival Atletico Nacional, which was also Higuita’s favorite club. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the goalkeeper relocated there, although the finances of the most infamous man in the city, Pablo Escobar, who was considered the richest man in the world at the time, also contributed to this. Namely, the cocaine dealer was the owner of the club.

For Nacional, Higuita’s star shone even more brightly. Thanks to his bold initiative and skillful handling of the ball, he acted most of the match not as a goalkeeper, but as a free defender or as a “libero” (“sweeper”).

Cup won by El Loco

As he was repeatedly seen coming out of his box with the ball and dribbling past attackers, he earned the nickname El Loco, or the crazy one, among the fans. At this point, however, it is worth emphasizing that if similar goalkeepers who play boldly with their feet are exceptionally expensive today, then in the 80s it was a revolution. Or just a crazy individual.

Due to Higuita’s style of play, Nacional often enjoyed playing in a one-man majority – after all, they had 11 outfield players, while the opponents had 10. And this approach brought them success.

In 1989, Nacional became the first Colombian team to lift the Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League trophy. In the final, a penalty shootout, Higuita emerged as the hero, saving three opponents’ penalties!

In the fall of the same year, the club also won the Copa Interamericana – the now-defunct Super Cup of North and South American champions – and in 1991, after a ten-year hiatus, Nacional was also crowned Colombian champion.

Scored and shone in the national team as well

In light of such good performances, Higuita also earned a call-up to the national team, and he made his debut in the yellow shirt in 1987. A year later, he introduced himself to the wider football public when he scored a penalty in a friendly match against Finland. Higuita scored three goals for Colombia, all from penalties, of course.

However, Higuita’s real rise to fame began at the 1990 World Cup, when he showed the world his tackling and dribbling skills. At that time, Colombia also managed to advance from the subgroup and met Cameroon in the round of 16. But there Higuita’s courage became fatal for him.

After normal time ended 0-0, the match went to extra time. Things remained unchanged there as well, until in the 106th minute of the match, Higuita started to build up the game from his side.

He tried to play past Cameroon’s veteran striker Roger Milla, but collided while doing so. After grabbing the ball, the 41-year-old veteran didn’t think twice, leading the Africans with ease. Not only that but two minutes later, Milla drove another, the fatal nail in the coffin of the Colombians.

First to Europe and…

Jumping back to his club career, 1992 was the only year Higuita tried his luck in Europe. However, the move to Real Valladolid in Spain did not work out, and so the captain was soon back in his homeland, where the following crazy events unfolded.

Namely, the once richest man in the world, the drug lord Escobar was already at the beginning of the downward spiral by that moment. In the summer of 1992, he managed to escape from prison but had no money. He did try to borrow it from his former business partner, another cocaine lord, Carlos Molina, but the latter refused.

In bankrupt — and now also offended — Escobar made one last desperate push, kidnapping Molina’s 15-year-old daughter, Claudia, and holding her for ransom. This is where Higuita comes into play.

Namely, while playing for Nacional, he had won the trust of both Escobar and Molina, which is why the latter chose the goalkeeper as the ransom broker.

… then to prison

The story goes that Molina gave Higuita a suitcase with 300,000 pesos, which the goalkeeper was supposed to guard until the kidnappers contacted him. When it happened, he was given further instructions on where to go and what to do.

However, Higuita arrived at the handover place earlier, and while he was waiting for Escobar’s men, he signed autographs to the children who were wandering around the neighbourhood and who were interested in him – he was still a national celebrity!

This act became fatal for Higuita because in this way the Colombian police were able to place the goalkeeper at the scene of the incident after investigating the matter and found that Higuita also contributed to the kidnapping.

After all, he had received 64,000 pesos as a token of gratitude for the successful handover. That’s how the goalkeeper was found guilty and sent behind bars for seven months without a trial (the 80s and 90s were crazy times in South America).

A missed MM and the scorpion kick save

He was released from prison at the beginning of 1994, but due to the pause in playing football and a several weeks-long hunger strike in the prison, Higuita was far from his top physical shape, which is why he missed the World Cup in the USA in 1994.

However, Higuita was back between the posts in the fall and helped Nacional to another championship. A year later, he put on the shirt of the Colombian national team again, and then it happened. On September the 6th, 1995, in a full house at Wembley Stadium, Higuita made the most famous save in football history – the scorpion kick save.

In later interviews, the goalkeeper has said that this save was not something that was born at this precise minute, but that he had been planning it for years. “I once advertised a soft drink in my country, during which I had to play football with children. At one point, one child hugged the ball, kicked it a few times and hit the scissors. I then told him it would be even more awesome if he did it backwards – at which point I realized I should do it myself in one of the games. At the time I just didn’t know where and when it would happen, but seven years later at Wembley I finally got my chance.”

At the end – a showman

With a bit of journalistic exaggeration, however, it can be said that this world-famous save was also the beginning of Higuita’s slow decline. He played at the top level, i.e. for Nacional, for two more years, until 1997, after which he became a nomad of a sort.

During the following years, he did not manage to gain a foothold anywhere – there were as many as eight different venues and the “crown” of it all was a positive doping test in 2004 – for cocaine.

In short, in the final years of his career, Higuita was more of a showman who was brought to the club primarily with the shirt and ticket sales in mind. The goalkeeper accepted this role, because that way he too could earn money.

Although the end of his career turned out like this, no one can take his 43 goals and his world-famous scorpion kick save away from him.

When goalkeepers score article series:

P.S. If you’re interested in our “When Defenders Score” series, you can check them out here:


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