CONMEBOL 1990 Qualification


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 Groups 1 and 3 would automatically qualify for the 1990 World Cup. The winners of Group 2, however, would play against the Oceania zone winners in an intercontinental play-off for a place in the tournament proper. It is commonly held today that the group winner 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, which clearly state that the winner in Group 2 would advance to the intercontinental play-off.

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 1989. 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
Uruguay secure their passage through to the World Cup with another dominant home win, and top marksman Sosa hits two trademark goals to ensure he’s been on target in each of their four qualifiers. 

Group 2, match 6, Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo (Guayaquil)
Ecuador 3-1 Paraguay
Paraguay fail to seize their second ‘match-point’ on successive weekends, and as a result finish runners-up. Ecuador deserved their win after a fine performance in which they created a number of opportunities.

Intercontinental play-offs

Group 2 winners Colombia would face OFC group stage winners Israel in the two-legged play-offs. Read more…

First leg
15.10.1989: Estadio Metropolitano (Barranquilla)
Colombia 1-0 Israel
Thanks to half-time substitute Usuriaga’s goal, the Colombians travel to the Middle East with a slender lead for the second leg. Utter dominance on balance of play, but few goalscoring opportunities. 

Second leg
30.10.1989: Ramat Gan International Stadium (Tel Aviv)
Israel 0-0 Colombia
The journey to the Middle East proved a successful one in terms of the only worthwhile variable: World Cup qualification. Colombia conceded a few chances, but no goals. They were now the fourth and final South American nation to qualify for Italia ’90.


With Argentina already destined for the 1990 World Cup as reigning world champions, two further entries from South America were decided directly through the CONMEBOL qualification. They were Uruguay, winners of Group 1, and Brazil, winners of Group 3. In addition, one further place was still obtainable, though Group 2 winners Colombia needed to tackle Oceania winners Israel over a two-legged, intercontinental play-off affair. 

No CONMEBOL nation managed to win all of their four qualifiers. Brazil amassed the highest points number (7), while Uruguay had been given an almighty scare by Bolivia, who at one stage had been four points ahead of them, as both ultimately finished on six points. In the other group, winners Colombia only totalled five points from their four fixtures. However, the lowest points total among the three groups had nothing to do with Colombia needing to go through a play-off in order to appear at Italia ’90: It had been decided beforehand that the winners from Group 2 would slot into the intercontinental play-offs. 

The CONMEBOL qualification was certainly not free from drama, as you could’ve expected. An indication was the cards count: Whilst the average number of yellow cards per qualifier in the UEFA confederation had been 2,26, its South American equivalent was 3,44. Also, there was an average of 0,5 sendings-off per game in the latter campaign, whilst the UEFA qualification only had 0,13, admittedly from a far superior number of matches (116 v 18). 

Romário wouldn’t last long after kick-off in Santiago. Here with Bebeto, while Chile’s Zamorano can be spotted behind the pair

The three stand-out fixtures as far as incident was concerned, had been the two Group 3 ties between Chile and Brazil and the Group 2 clash between Paraguay and Colombia. In Santiago, Brazil striker Romário had been given a red card in the second minute for striking Chile’s Hisis, and within too long, home midfielder Ormeño followed suit for an attempt at severing the leg of visiting wing-back Branco with a shocking tackle. Eight yellow cards were handed out, in addition to the two reds. Brazil were robbed of a perfectly good second goal when Bebeto saw a strike cancelled out for offside, and late in the game the hosts got a controversial equalizer when Brazil ‘keeper Taffarel had been adjudged to hold on to the ball for too long inside his own six yard area. Chile’s Aravena, the manager’s nephew, laid the ball down before any Brazilian truly realized what was going on, and he poked it sideways for substitute Basay to strike home.

The on-pitch scenes after the late, late penalty decision in Asunción

The tie in Asunción on 27 Aug was also eventful, especially after the break. A total of six yellow cards were handed out, four of which came the visiting team’s way, in addition to a red for midfielder Álvarez, who had chopped Paraguay’s midfielder Nunes down on the halfway line. With the hosts dominant, Colombia had levelled the scores a few minutes from full time through top goalscorer Iguarán, but just past the 90 minutes, the visitors’ eccentric goalkeeper Higuita had come off his line and clattered into home skipper Delgado to concede a penalty. The Colombian players had failed to control their emotions as they knew they were staring at a possibly crucial defeat, and riot police had to come on to the pitch to deal with the shenanigans which followed. It took another five minutes before Paraguay’s equally controversial goalkeeper, Chilavert, could tuck away the penalty and send the crowd home delirious. 

Rojas is about to get the Brazil v Chile contest forfeited

Then, of course, there was also the highly vexed and not least decisive fixture between Brazil and Chile in Rio de Janeiro, where the visitors’ goalkeeper Rojas had, as it was found out later, cut himself in an attempt to make it look like he had been injured by a flare thrown on to the pitch by a member of the crowd. This was seen as an attempt to have FIFA award them the win, but their foul methods were ultimately found out, and instead, as the game had been abandoned with 20 minutes left for play, the home side had been awarded the tie (2-0). Brazil had utterly dominated proceedings before the ‘Rojas incident’, and had led after Careca’s early second half strike. 

‘Chichi’ Romero (10) and Milton Melgar against Peru in La Paz

In Group 1, Bolivia made good use of their altitude advantage, as they returned both Peru and Uruguay back home pointless. They had been good value for both wins, and had made use of some interesting formations, particularly the 3-6-1 variant against Uruguay. Under Argentinian Habegger, Bolivia had a strong midfield base through Soria, and not least a wily advanced playmaker in the hugely gifted Romero. When they even went on to win their third successive qualifier, 2-1 away in Peru, they were run-away group leaders thanks to the fact that Uruguay had yet to play either of their home ties. Ultimately, though, the major group favourites did what had been expected of them, as they won comprehensively in both those home matches, firstly 2-0 against Bolivia, who had seen two second half sendings-off, and never really threatened to hang on to the one point which would’ve seen them through to Italia ’90, and then against Peru, condemning the visitors to a fourth straight defeat, although Uruguay were given a scare as Hirano had rounded goalkeeper Pereira in the second half, and then rolling the ball wide of the upright with the net gaping in front of him. 

Chilavert hands over his gloves to ace playmaker Romero, who, however, endured a disappointing qualification campaign

Traditionally, the South American continent has raised world class playmakers, and several teams had such a player in their ranks, the star of which so much had been expected. Not all had managed to deliever the goods in this qualification, though. Paraguay’s Romero had come into the qualification on the back of an injury which had kept him out of the Copa América tournament, and he never impressed, even featuring in goal for a few minutes after a Chilavert sending-off. Colombia’s Valderrama might have been part of the team which eventually won the group, but individually, the usually so bright playmaker failed to excel. In Group 1, the same could be said for Uruguay’s Francescoli, although he did at least get his name on the scoresheet when it mattered, as his goal against Bolivia saw to that they were firmly en route to a vital win. 

A smile which it would be expected to see plenty more of during Italia ’90: Rubén Sosa

Uruguay’s Sosa scored in each the four matches, and ended on five goals, the same tally as Brazil’s Careca, who on the other hand had netted four of his five goal haul in the 6-0 home thrashing of Venezuela. Colombia’s leading scorer, 32 year old Iguarán, had given evidence of a majestic leap as he had scored with two fantastic headers in their opening group game win at home to Ecuador.

Vera: Simply unplayable at home to Venezuela

As for individual performances, it had appeared easier to obtain a big rating in Group 3, where both Brazilians and Chileans alike had proved efficient in respective routs of the continent’s weakest team Venezuela. Careca had got the simply outstanding 8,8 for his contribution in the home match (much thanks to his four goals), while diminutive Chile midfielder Vera had picked up no less than 8,5 for his masterclass performance in the home tie against the same opponent. Another individual performance which really had caught the eye, had been the second half showing from Colombia’s Fajardo. He had been introduced after the break as they needed to come back from a goal down to defeat visiting Paraguay, and the attacking midfielder had given an interpretation of the role like had been expected from the departing Valderrama. 8,6 had been his deserved score. 

Hardly Brazil’s greatest ever export

Peru and Venezuela had finished the qualification pointless. While the Peruvians had looked tame early on in the qualification, they had not been as poor generally as Venezuela, who to their defence had come up against two very, very good teams. Peru had then looked much improved in their home fixture against Bolivia, despite eventually losing 2-1. They had subsequently parted with manager José Macia, and his assistant Percy Rojas had taken over for the journey to Montevideo, where they had not shamed themselves, perhaps aside from young midfielder Reynoso, who had got his marching orders on the half hour for lashing out at Bengoechea. 

With Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and possibly Colombia making the journey to Italia ’90, it could well be said that the continent looked equipped for a ‘favourites’ tag ahead of the tournament. Copa América winners Brazil and also the Uruguayans, who had given the Brazilians a run for the money in that tournament, were both exceptionally strong defensively, while they both had plenty of power coming forward, too. Argentina, fairly bleak in the Copa tournament, were less of a known quantity due to not having played in the World Cup qualification, but they still had Maradona, generally acknowledged as the world’s best footballer. If he could reproduce some of the magic which he had shown the world in the ’86 competition in Mexico, the Argentinians could once again prove to be a threat. Colombia were yet to qualify, but certainly had some exciting talents within their ranks. 

Post intercontinental play-offs

Pure Colombian joy in the wake of the final whistle in Tel Aviv

Colombia did indeed make it through to become CONMEBOL’s fourth representative at Italia ’90. They made hard work of a strong, resilient Israeli team, but thanks to substitute Usuriaga’s matchwinning goal in the first leg, played at home in Barranquilla, Maturana’s side could announce their arrival at a World Cup proper for the first time since 1962. They went on to hold the Middle East team to a goalless draw in the second leg in Tel Aviv. Despite a somewhat disappointing qualification campaign on an individual level, a high profile playmaker of theirs such as Carlos Valderrama would finally be able to display his talent to a global audience. The same applied to Luis Fajardo, perhaps an international star in the making? He’d clocked up a 7,62 average rating across his four matches, something which was second in the entire confederation, only behind Brazil’s Careca, who had, however, played one game less. 


(including the intercontinental play-offs)

Total number of matches: 20
Total number of players used: 163
Total number of players including unused substitutes: 181
Ever-presents: 35
Leading goalscorer: Careca (Bra), Sosa (Uru) 5
Yellow/red cards: 64/9

Goalscorers (53)

5 goals
Careca (Bra), Sosa (Uru)

4 goals 
Iguarán (Col)

3 goals
Letelier (Chi)

2 goals
Aravena (Chi), Avilés (Ecu), Bebeto (Bra), Ferreira, J (Par)

1 goal
25 players

own goals: 3

Top 20 ratings list

1 Careca (Bra) 7,73 (3)
2 Fajardo (Col) 7,62 (4)
3 Baena (Ven) 7,56 (3)
4 Hernández (Col) 7,53 (3)
5 Branco (Bra) 7,43 (3)
6 Dunga (Bra) 7,37 (4)
7 Valdo (Bra) 7,35 (4)
8 Paulo Silas (Bra) 7,32 (4)
9 Ricardo Gomes (Bra) 7,27 (4)
10 Bebeto (Bra) and Iguarán (Col) 7,25 (4)
12 Pizarro (Chi) and Sosa (Uru) 7,22 (4)
14 Sánchez (Bol) 7,20 (3)
15 Escobar (Col) 7,15 (6), Aravena (Chi), Astengo (Chi), Gutiérrez (Uru) and Ramallo (Bol) 7,15 (4)
20 Jorginho (Bra) and Soria (Bol) 7,13 (3)

Stand-out individual performances
1 Careca (Bra) 8,8 vs Venezuela (h)
2 Fajardo (Col) 8,6 vs Paraguay (h)
3 Vera (Chi) 8,5 vs Venezuela (h)
4 Letelier (Chi) 8,1 vs Venezuela (h)
5 Silas (Bra) 8,0 vs Venezuela (h)
6 Dunga (Bra) 7,9 vs Venezuela  (a), Sosa (Uru) 7,9 vs Peru (h), Usuriaga (Col) 7,9 vs Paraguay (h)
9 Bebeto (Bra) 7,8 vs Venezuela (a)
10 Aravena (Chi) 7,7 vs Venezuela (a), Aravena (Chi) 7,7 vs Venezuela (h), Branco (Bra) 7,7 vs Venezuela (h), Delgado (Par) 7,7 vs Ecuador (h), Fajardo (Col) 7,7 vs Israel (h), Iguarán (Col) 7,7 vs Ecuador (h), Rojas (Chi) 7,7 vs Brazil (h)