Arne Espeel: Belgian goalkeeper dies suddenly aged 25 after saving penalty

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"It’s a tragedy and a shock to us. Arne had been with the club his whole life."

Belgian goalkeeper Arne Espeel has died suddenly whilst playing for Winkel Sport B, just seconds after he saved a penalty for the club.

Winkel Sport B play in the second provincial division of West Brabant in Belgium and were playing against Westrozebeke in Sint-Eloois-Winkel - Winkel’s home ground in West Flanders Province - when the tragedy took place.

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Winkel Sport were 2-1 up when their opponents were awarded the penalty in the second half. Emergency services immediately ran on to help Espeel, doing all they could to save him, with a defibrillator also used.

However, the 25-year-old was pronounced dead soon after he was taken to hospital. A report in the Flemish news outlet Het Nieuwsblad said more than 1,000 people turned up to pay tribute to Espeel on Monday evening.

An autopsy was scheduled to take place on Monday (13 February) but the cause of Espeel’s death currently remains unknown.

What has been said?

The Belgian club issued a statement saying: “Winkel Sport is in very deep mourning at the sudden passing of goalkeeper Arne Espeel. We wish Arne’s family and friends our heartfelt condolences at this heavy loss. Football is taking a back seat for some time.”

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Winkel Sport B’s assistant Stefaan Dewerchin added: “The ball was still in play. Our goalkeeper got up as fast as possible to receive the ball, but then he fell. It was really terrible to watch. All the players showered together after the incident. When the message came that our goalkeeper was dead, it was an unusually heavy blow. I think some of the players still don’t realise exactly what happened.”

Patrick Rotsaert, the club’s sporting director, spoke to Het Nieuwsblad, explaining how hard the news has been for the club to take: “It’s a tragedy and a shock to us. Arne had been with the club his whole life, and he was dearly loved. It’s a really hard blow.”

Unfortunately Espeel is not the only footballer to have suffered in this manner and the sport has been struck by a number of tragedies where players have died on the field of play.

In February 2022, the Greek footballer Alexandros Lampis, aged just 21, collapsed five minutes into a third tier game for Illioupoli and went into cardiac arrest on a pitch where there was no defibrillator or ambulance at the stadium. The stadium in which the tragedy occurred is located within the south-eastern suburb of Athens but the ambulance took 20 minutes to arrive.

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This incident came eight months after the world watched Christian Eriksen collapse during a Euro 2020 match between Denmark and Finland. Denmark’s team doctor, Morten Boesen, confirmed the 29-year-old had gone into cardiac arrest on the pitch and was brought back through a combination of CPR and an electric shock from a defibrillator. He has since returned to football, and is now playing for Manchester United.

Fabrice Muamba went through a similar emergency during a 2012 FA Cup tie between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur. The then-23-year-old fell to the ground just before half-time and was immediately taken to hospital. Reports revealed his heart had stopped for 78 minutes before functioning again and the player regained consciousness two days later.

While Eriksen and Muamba’s lives were saved, others have not been so lucky. Cameroonian footballer Marc Vivian Foe, who played for Manchester City, collapsed in the centre circle during a match against Colombia. While he was still alive upon arrival at the stadium’s medical centre, he died shortly afterwards, with an autopsy concluding he had a hereditary condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Spanish wing-back Antonio Puerta died on the pitch while playing for Sevilla aged just 22 in 2007.

In Scotland, Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell died of heart failure during a match against Dundee United, also in 2007, aged 35. A post-mortem later revealed he died of left ventricular failure.

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