One of the more undistinguished teams in the CONMEBOL zone, the Bolivians likely harboured few hopes of getting to Italia’90. They had not participated in the World Cup since 1950 in Brazil, and hardly been close to qualifying since. The most recent edition of the Copa America had also corroborated the impression that Bolivia were heading nowhere, as they had finished last in their group of 5 teams, without scoring a single goal, and also had endured an embarrassing 5-0 defeat to Chile.
The Copa America had been the baptism of fire for new head coach Jorge Habegger. Habegger, an Argentinian, had been appointed head coach on the strength of leading club side Bolívar to successive league championships in 1988 and 1989, but quickly experienced the gap between domestic and international success. He would hope to build on the relations already established in the Bolívar side (including key players Borja and Melgar) to mount a bid for Italia’90 in their group against Uruguay and Peru. Read more . . .
Qualifier 1: Bolivia 2-1 Peru
20.08.1989, Estadio Hernando Siles (La Paz)
Goals: Melgar (pen), Ramallo
Line-up (4-4-2): Galarza – Borja (c), Fontana, Martínez, Pérez – Soria, Melgar, Romero, Takeo (Sánchez h-t) – Ramallo, Peña (Roca 68)
A much-improved performance on the recent Copa América campaign saw Bolivia pick up the richly deserved two points tally for the win. They bossed the game courtesy of their strength in midfield, where additions Soria and Romero, with the assistance of Melgar and second half substitute Sánchez, gave stand-out performances. They seemed to switch to 4-5-1 for the start of the second half, with Peña coming into a wide left role. Ramallo, alone up front after the break, notched the winner in fine fashion.
Qualifier 2: Bolivia 2-1 Uruguay
03.09.1989, Estadio Hernando Siles (La Paz)
Goals: Domínguez (own goal), Peña
Line-up (3-6-1): Galarzo – Ferrufino, Fontana, Martínez – Peña (Sánchez 63), Borja (c), Melgar, Soria, Romero, Pérez – Ramallo
Habegger had left the attacking Takeo out (of the squad altogether), with big defender Ferrufino coming into the starting eleven, and at the same time made sure to bolster the midfield in a formation which could well be described as 3-6-1. Peña and Romero lent lone striker Ramallo support, while both wide players, Borja and Pérez, kept bombing down the flanks in a tireless performance by an experienced home side against the group favourites. The win was thoroughly deserved, and it leaves the remaining fixtures highly interesting.
Qualifier 3: Peru 1-2 Bolivia
10.09.1989, Estadio Nacional (Lima)
Goals: Montaño, Sánchez
Line-up (5-4-1): Trucco – Montaño, Ferrufino, Fontana, Martínez, Vargas – Melgar, Soria, Romero (Sánchez 60), Cristaldo – Ramallo
With several new players in their starting eleven, Bolivia opted to sit deep and try to his the hosts on the counter in order to take a result back home. They were certainly feeling the absence of captain Borja along the right, even if his successor Montaño nets the opener. They are generally second best in a performance which does not replicate much of what they’d shown in the La Paz altitude, though they will somehow claim two incredibly important points thanks to teenage substitute Sánchez’ winning goal eleven minutes from time. Goalkeeper Trucco’s penalty save two minutes later is another massive bonus. Bolivia are merely a draw away from World Cup participation, and what a tie next week’s fixture in Uruguay turns out to be.
Qualifier 4: Uruguay 2-0 Bolivia
17.09.1989, Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)
Line-up (5-4-1): Trucco – Montaño (Peña h-t), Martínez, Fontana, Ferrufino, Vargas – Melgar, Villegas, Borja (c), Romero (Sánchez h-t) – Ramallo
Bolivia completed their World Cup qualification fixtures with this trip to Montevideo, well aware of the fact that a mere point would see them through to Italia ’90. However, they could not go on and give their people what they had wanted, as they were second best right through the game. The plucky Bolivians had again set themselves up in a defensive formation, though Uruguay had not allowed them the breaks which Bolivia had got from Peru last time out. The hosts scored twice in the first half, and after the break, both young substitute Sánchez and later experienced libero Fontana were sent off for silly challenges. With no Soria at the base of their midfield, Bolivia simply did not have the necessary quality to withstand the hosts’ pressure. All the Bolivians now could do, was to hope and pray for a miracle from Peru next week.
Following their grim Copa América tournament, there had probably not been much in terms of expectations to what the Bolivian team could do in the World Cup qualification. They were paired in group with one of the continent’s ‘big three’ in Uruguay, who had shown during that same recent competition that they were still very much a force to be reckoned with.
Manager Jorge Habegger had not seen his team score even once from four outings during the tournament in Brazil, but would have been well aware that playing at home, in the La Paz altitude, would represent a major advantage. Bolivia were to play their first two matches both in their capital, and so they had been looking to get off to a ‘flying’ start.
Several players would come into their World Cup qualification squads who had not participated during Copa América, and so it could be claimed that they looked stronger on paper for the start of the qualification than they had done in the continental championships. These were players such as goalkeeper Carlos Trucco, left-sided defender Roberto Pérez, vital midfielders Vladimir Soria and Erwin Romero, hard-running striker William Ramallo, as well as a troika of players who would come into the squad for their two away fixtures: wide options Tito Montaño and Ramiro Vargas, and youthful midfield man Luis Cristaldo. There were also a few who had participated in the recent championships who would not be considered for selection during the qualification, such as goalkeeper Marco Barrero, defenders Carlos Arias, Carlos Saldías and Miguel Rimba, as well as forward Roly Paniagua.
It would turn out that the Bolivians got what they had hoped for from their two opening ties. Beating Peru was perhaps not completely unexpected, as it was a vintage from their neighbouring country which hardly went down in history as far as quality was concerned. In coming from behind to win 2-1, the Bolivians had built confidence ahead of the much more difficult proposition of Uruguay. They picked an interesting 3-6-1 formation in the home tie against the group favourites, and went on to dominate, eventually winning more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline would suggest. It was a massive scalp, and one which brought about hopes, whether justified or not, that they could go on and even qualify for the world stage.
A week after toppling Uruguay, Bolivia had their first away qualifier in Lima. Despite winning 2-1, they were never anywhere near as comfortable as they had been up in the Andes altitude. In fact, they were quite fortunate to obtain both points in Peru, as they even needed a late penalty save from goalkeeper Trucco, who had replaced 38 year old Luis Galarza. Mr Habegger seemed like he prefered some players for their home ties, while others would come into contention for their journeys. This could have with a whole range of variables to do, and in a way it made sense to include a much more defensively-minded left-back in Vargas than Pérez for the trips to Peru and Uruguay.
At home, Romero had looked a class above most, while he would fail to replicate that form in their two away fixtures. They had seen exciting teenager Erwin Sánchez play his part during the Copa, and he would come on as a substitute in all four of their World Cup qualifiers, even hitting the winner in Lima. However, he would show way too much of his “youthful enthusiasm” for the manager’s liking when he got himself sent off early after appearing as a second half substitute in Montevideo, and so, with his team already two goals down, he left his team mates with an even greater mountain to climb. A draw would’ve been sufficient, but Bolivia were never anywhere near getting their result in the Uruguayan capital. Even an old campaigner such as libero Ricardo Fontana earned a red card then after an horrific tackle, although by the time he walked the game was more or less up anyway.
Bolivia finished second, as the Uruguayans completed their list of fixtures with another expected home win against Peru. However, they could certainly take plenty of optimism from their campaign, even if a few of their players would probably not feature for them at international level again, and certainly not in their next World Cup qualification campaign. They were stalwarts Galarza and Fontana, as well as big centre-back Eligio Martínez, another influental member of the team. And would the delicate Romero play a further role now they were closing this World Cup chapter? At 32, captain Carlos Borja was as old as Romero, and who knew what lay ahead.
There was still some promise coming through. Sánchez had been mentioned. The even younger Marco Etcheverry featured on the bench in all four of their qualifiers, although never made it onto the pitch. There was a 20 year old by the name of Cristaldo, and they had a number of players also in a ‘good’ age for the near future, such as Soria, defender Marcos Ferrufino, forwards Álvaro Peña and Ramallo.
Argentinian supremo Habegger had used various formations during the four matches, only replicating himself for their two away ties. They had offered plenty of men in the forward direction at home, while they had wanted to sit back and defend very deep on their two journeys. Ultimately, they had failed to qualify, but they had probably still exceeded their points expectations. And so, it could well be said of the Bolivian team that they had performed to the peak of their capacity during the World Cup qualification.
Final position: 2 (out of 3)
Total record: 4 3 0 1 6-5 6
Home record: 2 2 0 0 4-2 4
Away record: 2 1 0 1 2-3 2
Number of players used: 19
Number of players including unused substitutes: 20
Ever-presents (360 minutes): 3 (Martínez, Melgar, Ramallo)
Leading goalscorer: Five players with a goal each (as well as an own goal)
Yellow/red cards: 10/2
– game by game
|Player||Per (h)||Uru (h)||Per (a)||Uru (a)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
Top three individual ratings:
1 Romero 7,6 v Peru (h)
2 Peña 7,5 v Uruguay (h)
3 Sánchez 7,5 v Peru (h – as a substitute)
Bolivia did not play another international until June 1991, when they had a double-header, home and away, with Paraguay in preparation for the following month’s Copa América tournament. By then, Jorge Habegger had left his position as the team’s manager, and recent Blooming manager Ramiro Blacut had come in.