As could be said about Group 3, there was also a relatively clear favourite beforehand in Group 1 of the CONMEBOL section: Uruguay. Neither Bolivia nor Peru were expected to have the capacity to challenge eight times World Cup participants, who had indeed even won the Jules Rimet trophy twice: In the inaugural tournament on home soil in 1930, as well as the famously claimed victory in the Maracanã in 1950, when they had silenced the alledged crowd of around 200,000 people through notching the winning goal. 

Peru was of course another nation with a World Cup pedigree, though there were obviously few players left with experience from such occasions. They had participated three times out of four from 1970 to 1982, but especially in the wake of the horrific aircrash disaster which had struck their highly promising Alianza Lima club side in December 1987, they now looked a relatively bleak side. There appeared to be more promise among the Bolivian ranks, even if they had failed to do much in the recently held Copa América tournament. 

Uruguay had appointed former Peñarol manager Oscar Tabárez in 1988, after he had led his club side to the continental title, defeating América de Cali of Colombia over an eventual three matches. He had succeeded Roberto Fleitas, who again was Omar Borrás’ successor, the man who had led them in the 1986 World Cup, where they had arrived with a reputation of being a niggly outfit, a reputation which they had certainly lived up to. They had won the 1987 edition of Copa América, having qualified directly for the semi-finals stage as holders, and even looked strong in the recently held continental championships, where they had only lost to Brazil in the final match of the second group stage. 

Bolivia were under the tutelage of Argentinian coach Jorge Habegger, an exciting coach who had enjoyed success at domestic level in the country in leading La Paz club Bolívar to successive titles in 1987 and 1988. In the Copa América tournament, they had failed to evoke much passion, even exiting without a single goal to their name over the four group stage games, though at least they had held reigning world champions Argentina to a scoreless draw. There were some exciting up and coming players, but they also had several players the ‘wrong’ side of 30. Could Habegger find the right balance to make them challengers, and could they take advantage of playing their home matches in the high altitude of the capital? 

Peru also had a relatively newly acquired coach in Brazilian playing legend Pepe, or José Macia, as was his birthname. This was his first ever international assignment, even if he had managed for 14 years. ‘Pepe’ had not ignited them in time for the Copa América, where they, like Bolivia, had failed to win a single game, although they had drawn three times, and even managed to hold Brazil to an early 0-0 result. It did look difficult for them with the current crop of players, which did not really contain much above the ordinary. The new boss would have to work magic in order to produce results in this qualification. 


Match 1
20.08.89: Bolivia 2-1 Peru
Estadio Hernando Siles (La Paz)
The opening match in Group 1 ended with a deserved home win, as Bolivia were the better side for the majority of the game. Playing in the La Paz altitude provided the visitors with some challenges which they never really came to terms with, and the hosts had the individuals to put the Peruvians to the sword. Melgar and Romero bossed the midfield, while visiting ‘keeper Purizaga needed to deal with several efforts from distance. He even saved Pérez’ first half penalty, until conceding an equalizer on the stroke of half time from what was Bolivia’s second spot-kick of the afternoon. This after they themselves had snatched an unlikely lead through a fine volley from midfielder del Solar. Ramallo’s excellently taken goal early in the second half secured both points for the hosts, who had introduced teenager Sánchez to some effect for the start of the final 45 minutes. 

Match 2
27.08.89: Peru 0-2 Uruguay
Estadio Nacional (Lima)
Two second half goals ensured Uruguay’s qualification campaign got under way with a favourite win, even if they allowed the hosts to enjoy the majority of possession. Peru were certainly not overawed: not by the occasion, and not by the opponents. They fought gallantly, but didn’t quite have the physicality to match the visitors. Uruguay’s pace on the break proved vital, and Alzamendi assisted Sosa for the first and then netted the second himself. It was a game with plenty of commitment, but with relatively few goalscoring opportunity. Del Solar led from his libero position on Uribe’s return to the national side, while Gutiérrez and Paz were the pick of the visiting bunch.

Match 3
03.09.1989: Bolivia 2-1 Uruguay
Estadio Hernando Siles (La Paz)
Massive test for the Uruguayans in the Bolivian altitude, and one which they would ultimately fail. The credit should definitely go to the hosts, though, who put on a very fine performance, and they richly deserved their win. Perhaps were they unfortunate that it hadn’t come with a greater margin. Habegger’s tactics with overpowering the visitors in central areas, as well as making excellent use of their tireless wide players, saw to that the visitors were stretched. Uruguay had been fortunate to be handed their goal back on a plate following an unlucky back pass by an under-pressure Romero. Peña the big home hero with his signature on both goals, although the opener went down as an own goal. 

Match 4
10.09.1989: Peru 1-2 Bolivia
Estadio Nacional (Lima)
The visitors took a massive step in the direction of World Cup qualification through their third successive win. They were second best for most of the game, though, with Peru giving their best display of these qualifiers. They came out in a 4-3-3, often attacking through left-back Olivares, and the liveliness of Hirano and strength of Gonzáles saw them cause Bolivia problems. However, Habegger once again got his tactics right eventually, and in their compact 5-4-1, they fended the hosts off, and completed their ‘smash and grab’ when substitute Sánchez scored the winner with just over ten minutes left for play. Montaño had put them in front in first half injury time, and then an excellently executed Peruvian transition had seen them equalize. Drama just after Sánchez’ goal, when Trucco stopped centre-back Requena’s penalty. A total of six bookings in a game which was never ugly. Peru had deserved at least a point. 

Match 5
17.09.1989: Uruguay 2-0 Bolivia
Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)
The penultimate game of the group would go a long way to deciding which team would reach Italia ’90: A home win would effectively see the Uruguayans through, as they were facing lowly Peru on home soil in their final qualifier. Bolivia, whose performance had not been great in Peru, but yet got them a win, only needed a point in order to defy the odds and qualify. Alas, the fairytale was not to be. Uruguay dominated for almost the entire 90 minutes. They scored twice, were probably robbed for two penalties, and the second half saw two Bolivian players, substitute Sánchez and libero Fontana, sent off. The party-clad near capacity crowd got what they had come for. It could not have been more deserved. 

Match 6
24.09.1989: Uruguay 2-0 Peru
Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)

Final table

2Bolivia 4301656




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