The CONMEBOL zone had 9 entries for the 1990 World Cup qualification: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela. In addition, Argentina were to represent the region in Italia’90 as the reigning world champions.
The draw was held in Zürich, Switzerland, 12 December 1987. The 9 teams were drawn in three groups of three teams each, giving a total of 18 matches across the groups which were scheduled to take place between 30 July and 24 September 1989 (kicking off considerably later than the other continental zones in the 1990 World Cup qualification).
The two group winners from Group 1 and Group 3 would automatically qualify for the World Cup. The winner of Group 2, however, would play off against the Oceania zone winners for a place in the tournament proper. (It is commonly held today that the winning team with an inferior record than the other two group winners would play off against the Oceania zone winners. This claim is however not correct, as can be ascertained from contemporary sources reporting from the draw in 1987.)
South America’s continental tournament Copa América, by now held biannually, though only since the 1987 issue, had been played out in Brazil between 1 July and 16 July. The hosts had ultimately won, avenging the bitter defeat against Uruguay from the final round during the 1950 World Cup on home soil in an identical format to then. The 1989 edition of Copa América was in many ways a prelude to the ensuing World Cup qualification.
The Brazilians would be opening the qualification just two weeks after winning the South American championships.
30 July 1989
Group 3, match 1, Estadio Brígido Iriarte (Caracas)
Venezuela 0-4 Brazil
They put up a fine first half fight, the plucky hosts, but a goal down at the interval, they will lose their shape in the final 45, and the four goal cushion is well deserved for the recent Copa América champions.
6 August 1989
Group 3, match 2, Estadio Brígido Iriarte (Caracas)
Venezuela 1-3 Chile
Another early goal conceded for the hosts, just like last week, and despite being on top for the first 22-23 minutes of the second half, they ultimately deserved a second successive loss. Chile’s quality shone through in the end.
13 August 1989
Group 3, match 3, Estadio Nacional (Santiago)
Chile 1-1 Brazil
Two early incidents lead to a red card for each team. In the wake of this, plenty of shots are fired from distance, without reward. Brazil move in front after crazy own goal, whilst the late equalizer is another bizarre incident in a game far from free of controversy.
20 August 1989
Group 1, match 1, Estadio Hernando Siles (La Paz)
Bolivia 2-1 Peru
Bolivia saw one spot-kick saved and another converted, and Peru had gone in front from a fine finish late in the first half. The hosts were by far the better in midfield, bossing the majority of the game, and look to have a real gem in second half substitute teenager Sánchez. They deservedly turned the game around.
Group 2, match 1, Estadio Metropolitano (Barranquilla)
Colombia 2-0 Ecuador
A superior Colombia saw off the threat from their neighbours Ecuador without too much trouble. Iguarán scored twice in the air, of which the first was a world class finish.
Group 3, match 4, Estádio do Morumbi (São Paolo)
Brazil 6-0 Venezuela
An expected rout, and indeed the score was kept down by the fine goalkeeping of César Baena. Careca celebrated his return to the side by scoring four times, two in each half.
27 August 1989
Group 1, match 2, Estadio Nacional (Lima)
Peru 0-2 Uruguay
Uruguay sat back and invited the hosts to dominate possession, and then they caught them on the break with some efficiency, scoring twice in the second half to claim a well-deserved win.
Group 2, match 2, Estadio Defensores del Chaco (Asunción)
Paraguay 2-1 Colombia
A solid performance by the hosts, though they needed an injury time penalty conversion from debutant ‘keeper Chilavert to see off Colombia, whose ten men had equalised after Álvarez’ sending-off.
Group 3, match 5, Estadio Malvinas Argentinas (Mendoza, Argentina)
Chile 5-0 Venezuela
On neutral ground in Argentina, Chile couldn’t quite rack up the scoreline necessary to surpass Brazil in the group standings, albeit they gave it a decent go. Letelier took the main plaudits through his hat-trick, but a late onslaught failed to yield a sufficient number of goals against an, at times, aggressive opponent.
3 September 1989
Group 1, match 3, Estadio Hernando Siles (La Paz)
Bolivia 2-1 Uruguay
Uruguay’s quick transitions became a non-theme in the Bolivian altitude, and the hosts made sure to grab the plaudits which their game plan warranted. This was Álvaro Peña’s big moment.
Group 2, match 3, Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo (Guayaquil)
Ecuador 0-0 Colombia
Goalless, perhaps, but an increasingly action-packed game as it went along, with both teams having had opportunities to seal the win. Both had even started out in 4-4-2, but came off having switched to 4-3-3 in search of that elusive winner.
Group 3, match 6, Estádio do Maracanã (Rio de Janeiro)
Brazil 1-0 Chile*
Game ends prematurely in farcical circumstances, with the visitors leaving the pitch to attend to their ‘injured’ goalkeeper. Hosts had dominated up until then, leading deservedly. Game would be settled in the FIFA headquarters later.
- Seven days after the fixture, FIFA awarded Brazil a 2-0 win under the existing guidelines for a team failing to complete a tie
10 September 1989
Group 1, match 4, Estadio Nacional (Lima)
Peru 1-2 Bolivia
Bolivia sat deep and invited Peru onto them. The hosts gave their best performance of the qualification, but were hit by two sucker-punches in what could best be described as a ‘smash and grab’ by the visitors to keep their World Cup dreams very much alive.
Group 2, match 4, Estadio Defensores del Chaco (Asunción)
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Despite giving a below-par performance, Paraguay won to maintain their hope of achieving World Cup qualification. Goals by the returning Cabañas and (Javier) Ferreira saw them go two up, with Avilés adding a late consolation. Chilavert needlessly sent off.
17 September 1989
Group 1, match 5, Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)
Uruguay 2-0 Bolivia
Utterly dominant performance and win for hosts, as Bolivia finish the game with only nine men after two second half sendings-off. Uruguay are close to qualifying for Italia ’90 through this win, but need to see off Peru next week.
Group 2, match 5, Estadio Metropolitano (Barranquilla)
Colombia 2-1 Paraguay
Paraguay had looked to be on their way to group victory courtesy of a late first half goal, but tactical adjustments at the interval changed the complexion of the game, and the Colombians had the game turned on its head within 20 minutes of the restart.
24 September 1989
Group 1, match 6, Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)
Uruguay 2-0 Peru
Group 2, match 6, Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo (Guayaquil)
Ecuador 3-1 Paraguay