I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

The Two Escobars (Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist, 2010) develops an intriguing thesis: how drug trafficking bolstered the Colombian soccer team to new heights and resulted in the death of one of its greatest players.

The two Escobars profiled in this ESPN 30 for 30 documentary are Andrés Escobar and Pablo Escobar. Andrés Escobar was a Colombian soccer player who became part of the World Cup-qualifying team. Pablo Escobar was more notorious: He was a drug lord who earned billions trafficking cocaine to the U.S. and Europe. In order to legitimize his earnings, he laundered the money through soccer.

The Two Escobars entwines these two men’s narrative arcs through their rises and falls. With the infusion of money, the Colombian soccer teams flourished with strong players and excellent coaching, becoming points of pride for the Colombian people. Andrés Escobar eventually became team captain and one of the strongest defenders, along with other players rounding out the team. This documentary features interviews with several of the former players and the former coach, each giving insiders’ views. All of them hold a deep respect for Andrés.

While this documentary begins with the story with Andrés, it spends a significant amount of time on Pablo Escobar, using archival footage and interviews with his cousin, his former hitman, and a U.S. DEA director to provide the deeper picture. They set up why soccer became so important to the drug cartels, and they show the dangers of their influence. Referees, for example, were bribed to throw games, and Pablo himself had a referee killed for making his team lose.

Despite these undercurrents, the Colombian teams played intense matches before energetic crowds, as some of the exciting archival match footage shows. During one match against Argentina, the players and coach recount what happens during the game as the footage shows us the play. Winning 5-0, team qualifies for the World Cup.

Eventually, Pablo Escobar arranges for his own supposed imprisonment, but being in prison does not end his interest in soccer as he invites the players to play matches at his camp. Some players, including Andrés, feel uncomfortable about going. Ultimately, another drug cartel kills Pablo Escobar.

The Colombian team arrives in Los Angeles to play in the World Cup. The team wants to make its country proud, but early in play they seem off their game and they face threats going into the tournament. They lose to Romania in the first meet, and during the match with the United States, Andrés Escobar accidentally deflects the ball into their own goal, scoring a point for the U.S.

From the start the documentary hints about this moment and what it means, but now the threat is clear. Humiliated, Andrés Escobar returns home and tries to go about living a normal life. During one evening, he asks a few friends to go out, and they discourage him though he goes anyway. Later in the evening, he is shot and killed.

Even though the two stories about the The Two Escobars are not divided equally, this documentary still delivers on its intriguing thesis.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

Published by

Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh is a documentary blogger and mass media professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Follow her on Twitter @documentarysite.