'Celeste' topple nine man Bolivia to be within touching distance of the World Cup
It was showdown time in the Uruguayan capital: Anything but a home win would see Bolivia, stunningly, claim their Italia ’90 tickets on behalf of the hosts. However, Uruguay were remaining favourites, based on their expected superiority to the Bolivians, and not least due to their strength on home soil. While they had been second best in the La Paz altitude two weeks earlier, Estadio Centenario was a stronghold for ‘la Celeste’. Bolivia had been all but convincing during their 2-1 win in Peru last Sunday, and were they to secure that sensational passage through to the World Cup, they would need to up their level massively.
Table before kick-off:
Uruguay team news
A fortnight had passed since Uruguay’s defeat in Bolivia, and since then, manager Óscar Tabárez had made just a solitary change to the 16 man strong matchday squad. For their two away fixtures, the squad had remained identical, whereas on this occasion, Nacional’s 25 year old full-back José Pintos Saldanha was absent. He had been replaced by midfielder William Castro, a team mate of Saldanha’s at Montevideo club Nacional, who would finish the domestic season runners-up to shock winners Progreso.
Uruguay had an established, settled team, and they had started their final six matches (out of seven) in the recently held Copa América tournament with the same eleven players. From then, Tabárez had made just a solitary change to his two hitherto World Cup qualification line-ups, namely with a switch in the goalkeeper’s position: 35 year old Argentina based Eduardo Pereira of reigning league champions Independiente had come in for Javier Zeoli.
Whilst group favourites, Uruguay had now been put under severe pressure by today’s Montevideo visitors, as Bolivia had won all three of their qualifiers to date. This necessitated wins in their two home ties for Uruguay to make their expected progress through to Italia ’90. Hence, they would need to be on the front foot in today’s fixture and not least make sure they send the Bolivians back home empty-handed.
Captain Enzo Francescoli, now 27 years old and having recently enjoyed a switch from Racing Paris to giants Olympique Marseille, was one of various Uruguayans who had been in Europe since their previous qualifier. The Marseilles club had played their first round, first leg in the European Cup at home to Danish outfit Brøndby on Wednesday 13 September. Francescoli completed the 90 minutes in the 3-0 win. He’d played three league matches prior to joining the rest of the Celeste squad for the World Cup qualification, and even scored on his debut: a 2-1 home win over Metz on August 5. He was still, of course, expected to start this game.
Also returnees from European action were Nelson Gutiérrez, Rubéns Paz and Sosa, José Perdomo, as well as Pablo Bengoechea. The former had, incredibly, scored in both his outings for Hellas Verona, both 2-1 losses, against Bari and Napoli respectively, while Paz had come on as a substitute in the 2-0 home defeat against Roma, as well as playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 away win at Cremonese. Fellow Uruguayan Carlos Aguilera, who would not be involved in either of their four World Cup qualifiers, had netted the winner from the penalty spot. Perdomo had also completed both games from his midfield position.
As for Lazio attacker Sosa, he’d scored their equalizer in a 1-1 home draw against Cremonese, while he’d managed to red-card himself at the end of their 1-0 away defeat against Fiorentina. Bengoechea had starred during Sevilla’s 1-0 away triumph at Celta Vigo.
Again, Tabárez was expected to implement his trusted 4-3-3 formation.
Bolivia team news
Bolivia had had a flying start to their campaign, after suffering a very disappointing Copa América tournament in which they had failed to score in four matches. They had managed to follow up their two 2-1 home wins against Peru and Uruguay respectively with a hugely important win, of an identical scoreline, in Lima a week ago, and so, they had positioned themselves very well as far as qualification for Italia ’90 went. However, they were well aware that group favourites Uruguay now faced two home ties, and so were still odds-on to win the group. Bolivia’s (anything but simple) task was to take a point (or more!) back from the banks of the La Plata.
Their Argentinian manager, Jorge Habegger, had proved himself as an astute tactician so far, clearly adapting their formation and outline according to the opponent. They had lined up in a 4-4-2 in their opening win against Peru, whilst they had hit their Uruguayan visitors clad in something akin to a 3-6-1 formation in La Paz. For their recent trip to Lima, they had arrived in a 5-4-1 combination, and whilst rarely looking convincing, they had achieved their ambition of two points in the Peruvian capital. How would they appear tactically on this occasion?
Whereas there had been just a solitary change in their matchday squad of 16 for their two home fixtures, the Bolivians had drafted in three new players for the party which had travelled to Lima. There had been an enforced absence through forward Álvaro Peña’s suspension last time around, and Mr Habegger would’ve been delighted to see his return to the squad. Peña had been a menace to the Uruguayans in La Paz. On this occasion, though, they were missing influental defensive midfielder Vladimir Soria, while at the same time they welcomed back Carlos Borja, the energetic full-back who had captained them in their two first qualifiers. Another first-time absentee was left-back Roberto Pérez, who had starred in their La Paz wins, whilst only being an unused substitute in Lima.
Bolivia’s main source of creativity had thus far been seasoned attacking midfielder Erwin Romero, although in Peru, he had not excelled to quite the same level as in their two home ties.
41 year old Chilean referee Gastón Castro was in his 12th year as a FIFA official. He had a fine pedigree, with participation in the 1982 World Cup, where he had been in charge of the group stage game between Yugoslavia and Honduras (1-0). He had run the rule over a total of three World Cup qualifiers prior to this: Once in qualification for the ’82 tournament, and twice for the 1986 event in Mexico. He had also refereed once during the 1984 Olympics (Italy 1-0 Egypt), as well as a total of 24 (!) Copa Libertadores fixtures since his ‘debut’ in 1978. However, perhaps his biggest moment had come during the 1983 edition of Copa América, when he’d been placed in charge of the first (of two) semi-final meeting between Paraguay and Brazil (1-1) in Asunción.
This would be the 24th meeting overall between the two nations, and no less than their fifth head to head during 1989. Their Copa América clash, which had finished with a big 3-0 win for the Uruguayans, vice-champions in spe, had followed friendlies in Santa Cruz (0-0) and Montevideo (1-0) respectively. More importantly, Bolivia had deservedly toppled their group rivals when the pair had crossed paths in La Paz two weeks earlier.
Historically, Uruguay were superior to their opponents, with a 17-3-3 record since their first meeting back in the 1926 version of Copa América (6-0 in Chile). This was their seventh meeting in a World Cup setting. While they had come across one another during the 1950 Brazil World Cup (8-0 to Uruguay!), their other five encounters had come in qualification. The Bolivians had an abysmal record against the Uruguayans, but in five previous qualifiers, their record stunningly read 2-2-1. They needed to use those historical data for all their worth today.
This qualification fixture took place on historical ground, as Estadio Centenario had been the venue for the 1930 World Cup final, where the home side had obviously won the inaugural event. Domestically, one of the country’s leading clubs, Peñarol, had used it as their home ground. It is situated in the Parque Batlle neighbourhood of downtown Montevideo, and has a very characteristic tower: ‘Torre de los homenajes’ rises about 100 metres above the ground.
The stadium name, incidentally, refers to the fact that Uruguay’s constitution was taken into oath in 1830, precisely 100 years prior to the ‘Centenario’s’ opening.
|1 Eduardo Pereira||35||Independiente|
|2 Nelson Gutiérrez||27||Hellas Verona|
|3 Hugo de León||31||River Plate|
|4 José Herrera||24||Figueres|
|5 José Perdomo||6′, sub 79′||24||Genoa|
|6 Alfonso Domínguez||23||Peñarol|
|7 Antonio Alzamendi||33||Logroñés|
|8 Santiago Ostolaza||27||Nacional|
|9 Enzo Francescoli (c)||27||Olympique Marseille|
|10 Rubén Paz||sub 67′||30||Genoa|
|11 Rubén Sosa||59′||23||Lazio|
|x Javier Zeoli||27||Tenerife|
|13 Gabriel Correa||on 79′||21||Peñarol|
|14 Pablo Bengoechea||on 67′||24||Sevilla|
|x William Castro||27||Nacional|
|x Rubén da Silva||21||River Plate|
|20 Carlos Trucco||26′||32||Bolívar|
|3 Ricardo Fontana||32′, 77′||38||The Strongest|
|4 Marcos Ferrufino||26||Bolívar|
|7 Milton Melgar||29||Bolívar|
|8 Carlos Borja (c)||32||Bolívar|
|9 Eduardo Villegas||25||The Strongest|
|10 Erwin Romero||sub h-t||32||Blooming|
|14 Eligio Martínez||21′||34||The Strongest|
|15 Ramiro Vargas||32||Litoral|
|18 William Ramallo||26||Destroyers|
|23 Tito Montaño||sub h-t||26||The Strongest|
|1 Luis Galarza||38||Bolívar|
|x Luis Cristaldo||20||Oriente Petrolero|
|x Marco Etcheverry||18||Destroyers|
|x Erwin Sánchez||on h-t, 54′||19||Bolívar|
|x Álvaro Peña||on h-t||23||Blooming|
A cauldron of noise was what the visiting players were experiencing in the moments leading up to kick-off. The home fans were out in force, obviously cheering on their heros in order to try and give them a lift, as well as jeering the opponents to try and unsettle them. This is far from difficult football fans psychology; it happens every time.
The Estadio Centenario was crammed with people, with only a few empty seat rows visible, and it was already clear that it would take a massive effort from the visiting Bolivian players to prevent a home win in these surroundings. However, they had every incentive in the world to succeed, as it would take them through to the Mundial in Italy if they could deny Uruguay the two points.
The visitors were lined up for kick-off, and they would get the game going through William Ramallo and Erwin Romero, the attacking midfielder who had given such good accounts of himself when they had played up in the Andes mountainsides back home in La Paz. Off we go!
Lively opening stages
Bolivia needed to emphasize on not conceding early. They were aware of their status as underdogs despite the fact that they were four points ahead of their opponents, and they could ill tolerate an early goal against and the implications which it would bring. The visitors needed to be strong defensively, but at the same time also willing to accept the chance to go on the counter should the opportunity arise.
Uruguay were indeed starting off on the front foot, something which had been fully expected. They were the ones chasing the win, and for a team of their reputation, anything less than two points would be deemed as a total failure. There had been an early display of nerves when centre-back Nelson Gutiérrez had failed to find his partner Hugo de León with a simple square pass, something which had momentarily let Bolivia’s William Ramallo in, although the Italy based central defender had ultimately redeemed himself and cleared the situation.
The hosts were looking to deploy their brightest attacking talent, something which meant that Rubén Paz and Enzo Francescoli would arrive in possession. The latter seemed to be shadowed relatively closely by Eduardo Villegas, who was performing in the qualification for the very first time. The deep-lying Bolivian midfielder caused a couple of early free-kicks, clearly interested to let the home side know he was there, and that his intentions were just about the same as Vladimir Soria’s would’ve been had he been available for selection.
Bolivia do not mind conceding the odd free-kick. They had probably not wanted to let Uruguay in with shooting opportunities from just outside the area, but they needed to fend off an early one from 20 yards, to the left of centre as the hosts were looking, after Villegas had tripped Francescoli. Interestingly, José Perdomo was allowed to strike right-footed, and whilst he found the target, his shot was an easy catch for 32 year old custodian Carlos Trucco, once again appearing in his alternatively-looking goalkeeper’s jersey. A first shot on goal had been registered before four minutes had passed.
The light blue clad home side were able to keep possession and knock the ball about in their team at pace. Despite Bolivia sitting deep in their two blocks of five and four respectively, they were already being asked questions. The lively Rubén Sosa made it to the byline to the left inside the area, and attempted to find Francescoli with an angled ball back. Alas, the pass was not of such quality that the Uruguayan captain was able to do anything else than touch the ball with his head.
Hard man Perdomo was in the thick of the action in the early stages. Not only had he had that free-kick effort on target, but he was also involved in a situation with Bolivia skipper Carlos Borja around ten yards inside the visitors’ half of the pitch. Unceremoniously, the Genoa midfielder had scythed the returning Borja down, and a yellow card was inevitable. The latter needed some treatment before he was able to continue. Perdomo was then, three minutes later, in the spotlight again when he was played in for a shot from just outside the area, although he was being closed down well by Milton Melgar, and his hurried effort went well wide to the left of Trucco’s upright. The Bolivian goalkeeper, by the way, would next come off his line to punch a cross by Paz from the left corner of the penalty area, and while he’d not been too convincing in his action, the Bolivians managed to clear the situation before any damage was done.
Hosts remain far superior
Uruguay pile on the pressure. They have no intentions of inviting the visitors into play, and continue to overload inside the Bolivian half of the pitch. However, they have so far failed to produce much in terms of danger as far as Trucco is concerned, although it only seems a matter of time before there’s an error in judgement at the back for the Bolivians. While the away side had managed to apply sustained spells of dominance at home in the altitude in the opposite fixture, they can’t replicate at all that performance here in hostile surroundings, where the Uruguayans are being constantly spurred on by the near capacity crowd.
There is a very debatable situation 16 minutes in, when Bolivia’s spare man in defence, the 38 year old Ricardo Fontana, arrives late in a challenge against the host captain, and Francescoli appears to be clattered into just inside the area, to the left as the home side were looking. However, there’s no decision in favour of the Uruguayans from the referee, even if a penalty award could not have been far off. Just over a minute later, there’s another clash inside the Bolivian area, when Sosa arrives late in challenging Trucco for the ball. The ‘keeper had got to it first and booted it into touch, only for the home forward to follow through. Both go down, but after some more light treatment, the pair are quickly back on to their feet.
Bolivia had not played well in Peru, but still got away with the win. Had they used their solitary ‘get out of jail free’ card already? Within the opening 20 minutes, they hardly manage to keep possession at all, and they are a very limited capacity in coming forward. Not that it is their choice, understandably, to do so in the circumstances, but just soaking up pressure which reverberates back at them once they’ve booted the ball clear, is bound to have a draining effect on their players, both mentally and physically.
Fouls and further bookings
There’s plenty of free-kicks being dished out, and most of them are awarded in favour of the hosts. Again, this is a natural consequence of the permutations, and also of how the game is progressing. Uruguay often seek to attack along the left hand side, where some of their most exceptional talent is found: Francescoli often comes out towards this territory, and so too do both Paz and Sosa. It is the home captain who is on the receiving end of a poorly timed Eligio Martínez tackle almost by the left hand corner flag, and it is an easy decision for the Chilean referee to reward the big Bolivian central defender with a yellow card on 21 minutes.
The intensity levels are increasing as the first half progress, with the Bolivians giving everything in every challenge, bent as they are to preserve their four points lead at the top of the group table. The Uruguayans remain camped in their half, and they huff and puff with every equipment in their toolbox. Other than efforts from distance, though, they’ve so far been unable to break down the sturdy Bolivian resolve, and both Perdomo (24 mins, over) and right-back José Herrera (27 mins, into the defensive wall) fail to hit the target with further free-kicks.
Another booking had come the visitors’ way on 26 minutes, when goalkeeper Trucco is awarded the yellow card for what appears to be time wasting. It is a bemusing interpretation from the referee to only decide that Trucco’s actions deserve a warning after the ‘keeper has proceeded with the goalkick. In stopping play, issuing the yellow card, and dragging the ball back for a second kick, señor Castro actually rewards the visitors’ attempt at stretching his patience, albeit at the price of a card.
Approaching the half hour mark, there’s few signs that the pressure from the hosts is about to ease. They have been utterly dominant for possession, and the ball has only very sparingly been seen inside their half of the pitch. Uruguay goalkeeper Eduardo Pereira had touched the ball on two occasions. The 35 year old, who was plying his daily trade across the border in Argentina, where he was a part of the Independiente set-up, had once again been prefered ahead of Javier Zeoli.
At the back, the same four players as in their two previous qualifiers were seen from right to left: José Herrera, Nelson Gutiérrez, Hugo de León and Alfonso Domínguez. They were about as solid a unit as it got in international football, and though they had been breached twice in La Paz, they had so far in this game been almost surplus to requirements, at least when it had come to defending. Only the lone Bolivian striker had done some running up front to try and put pressure on them when they were in (rare) possession inside their own half, but so far either defender had probably spent more time inside the Bolivian half of the pitch, with both full-backs pushing forward, albeit relatively cautiously, and both central defenders coming up for set-pieces. Both de León and, in particular, Gutiérrez had plenty of aerial strength.
In midfield, Perdomo was operating in the central role among the three, with Ostolaza to his slightly advanced right, while the elegant Paz was the one with the most attacking freedom. Paz, aged 30, was Perdomo’s team mate at Genoa in Italy, while Ostolaza is still being remembered internationally for his two goals and ‘Man of the Match’ performance during his team Nacional’s 2-2 draw and eventual penalty kicks victory in the intercontinental club champions’ final in Tokyo the year before. It was a very competent midfield, which carried a bit of every element that you would need in order to succeed at the highest level.
Just in front of them, working as a somewhat retired striker, was arguably their greatest name: captain Enzo Francescoli. Having recently joined Olympique Marseille, he must have been looking forward to making himself properly acquainted with all those stars, having completed three seasons with bohemian Paris outfit Racing. Francescoli had not excelled to the levels which it had been expected during Uruguay’s first two qualifiers, and he was being monitored closely by Villegas on this occasion, something which had made it slightly difficult for him to stand out. However, he would give little examples of his touches, his technique and his vision, and his value to this side remained undoubted. It was also likely that his recent travel exertions had zapped some of his energy.
The two wide forwards were Antonio Alzamendi along the right and Rubén Sosa to the left. The former had not been brought into play a whole lot, although he had almost in freakish manner come close to scoring when he’d arrived first to a ball into space by Perdomo, seeing the ball cannoning off his knee and looping over the outrushing Trucco, only to end up a few yards to the left of goal on 25 minutes. Sosa was frequently involved, and was looking to exploit his pace to take him away from either Montaño or Martínez, who were both looking to prevent him from getting his way.
A dip into the visiting select
The Bolivians were, just like in Lima last week, sitting deep in a 5-4-1 formation. They had struggled for possession even in the Peruvian capital, although they had hit the hosts a couple of times on the break, and earned a win which had carried an element of fortune. This time around, they were up against an opponent of added quality, and they had been unable to perform any breaks. And where they had faced a deep-lying opponent in the opposite clash in their own capital, they now were up against an attacking Celeste.
Trucco kept goal for the second successive time, and it was almost as if manager Habegger prefered the use of certain players in the thinner La Paz air, whilst others would come into use on their travels. If that was the case, then 32 year old Trucco of Bolívar was their ‘travel goalkeeper’. Luis Galarza, who had kept goal in both their home qualifiers, six years Trucco’s senior, was again the back-up.
The five man strong defensive line remained identical from their recent journey across the mountains to Lima. Sitting behind the pair of centre-backs, with what was loosely regarded as a sweeper’s task, was Ricardo Fontana, the 38 year old of The Strongest. Four starters hailed from there, the same amount as from Bolívar, and Fontana had kept that spot throughout the qualification. He was a sound reader of the game happening in front of him, although nearing 40, he was no longer the quickest. He had been fortunate to escape a penalty decision against earlier.
Wide in defence were Tito Montaño to the right and Ramiro Vargas along the left. Both had come into the eleven for the trip to Lima. Montaño had even scored their opener then, and he was slightly more interested in giving support coming forward than his counterpart. Vargas was perhaps a more reliable character defensively. This still meant that Habegger trusted Montaño for the full-back role despite the return of team captain Borja, who had played there in their first two qualifiers. Montaño had needed to be very alert to the threat of Sosa, whilst Vargas had to look out for the threat from Alzamendi.
Working as their two centre-backs, Bolivia had 34 year old Eligio Martínez, who was seen to libero Fontana’s advanced left, and the tall, lean Marcos Ferrufino, another one from the Bolívar contingent. Both were above average in the air, and in a team otherwise consisting of fairly modestly-sized players, they were vital ingredients, particularly for set-pieces. Martínez was an ever-present so far in the qualification, and especially over the two home ties, he had proved to be an asset even in instigating attacks, as he enjoyed to transport the ball across the halfway line. Ferrufino seemed more an outright defender, who was less comfortable in possession.
At the base of their midfield, Bolivia had enjoyed the energetic, tenacious presence of Vladimir Soria so far in the qualification. He had probably been one of their more influental players, and so you could say that he was sorely missed for this their most difficult qualifier of the lot. Into his place had come Eduardo Villegas, a 25 year old, and though he had also performed during the recently held Copa América, it seemed obvious that he did not have the quality of Soria. Villegas almost worked as an old-fashioned man-marker against Francescoli, and with the home captain often pulling out towards the left hand channel in attack, this could’ve been more damaging than useful for the visitors, as they became more exposed through the centre.
32 year old captain Carlos Borja, who had missed the game in Lima last week, was back in the team, though with Montaño still prefered at right-back, his role now was that of a left-sided midfielder, much similar to what had been seen from 20 year young Luis Cristaldo in Peru. The latter had failed to excel then, though Borja’s return was a big plus, as his energy levels and strong running would fit a match of such a description as this. Borja would even contribute in field at times, though he would usually be found towards the left in midfield.
Opposite from Borja was Milton Melgar, the 29 year old who had captained Bolivia last time around, when Borja had been absent. Melgar was clearly a player of high calibre, well capable of holding on to the ball in crowded areas, and also useful in their passing game. He offered plenty of effort in what was more an inside right role rather than wide right. Again, Melgar had been someone of whom more had been expected in Lima, and so far he had been relatively anonymous, unable to link up with the often exuberant Erwin Romero, who was once again the starter as their primary playmaker, working in an advanced, slightly left-sided, midfield role. The 32 year old of Blooming had been mowed down by Gutiérrez 28 minutes in, and had taken a big knock just below his right knee. He would need to produce magic were the visitors to edge past the Uruguayans.
Alone up top was William Ramallo, a starter for the fourth time in the ongoing eliminatorias. He was another player with plenty of endeavour, and also with a goal threat, as he had proved in their opening defeat of Peru at home. In Lima, he had set substitute Erwin Sánchez up for the winner. He would not stop chasing, and he ran himself into the ground, even if he was always facing a losing battle against such a defensive pair as Gutiérrez and de León.
The Bolivians had looked to be getting the game into the rhythm which they’d wanted. Around the half hour mark, the tie was heading towards a cul de sac. The Uruguayan dominance, where they had put pressure on the visitors inside the final third of the pitch, had looked to gradually subside, and perhaps were the team clad in green and white beginning to let their guard down a little. Big mistake. Midfield man Ostolaza was given time and space a few yards inside the Bolivian half to pin a pass over the top of the defence and right into the path of Sosa. It was a sublime 35 yard ball which just evaded the mane of Martínez and fell on Montaño’s blindside, where the ever-alert, in-form Sosa was on hand to chest down and then fire a rapid left-footed effort low into the back of the net for his third goal in successive qualifiers. The despair of the two defenders involved revealed just how much it had meant to Bolivia to keep their sheets clean. Now they needed to return to the drawing board. 1-0.
There is no immediate response from the visitors, who are awarded a third yellow card of the first half a minute and 20 seconds after Sosa’s strike. It is the goalscorer who is in the thick of the action again, this time inside the penalty area ‘D’, where he becomes sandwiched in a challenge from Melgar and Martínez. The free-kick is unquestionable. And while the original foul had not warranted any further action from the referee than a set-piece, visiting libero Fontana comes rushing on to the man in black with his say, something which sees him too end up in the little black book. Mr Castro would not tolerate any player’s second opinion. The kick is ultimately wasted as Francescoli hits it straight at Melgar, and then scoops the rebound high over.
Uruguay score again
Uruguay’s class told again once they had moved in front. They applied further pressure on the Bolivian team, which simply did not seem to have the quality to mount purposeful attacks of their own. In midfield, Perdomo and Ostolaza were keeping tabs on the visitors’ two most creative players, Romero and Melgar, while Paz was orchestrating much of what the hosts were trying to do from his slightly more advanced position. It was left-back Domínguez, though, who broke up play just inside his own half when he nicked the ball from Melgar, before going on a run along the left. Eventually, he played a right-footed cross towards the edge of the area, where a deft first-time touch from Alzamendi, who had come inside, left Francescoli with a chance which the host captain just could not refuse to capitalize on. Seizing on to the pass, he guided the ball into the top right corner with a controlled effort from the inside of his right foot. It was a delightfully executed second goal for the hosts, and surely, there was no way back for Bolivia now.
Through to half-time
The remainder of the first half is a further study of the Uruguayan grip on the proceedings. They do not let the visitors in with a sniff, and keep control of the ball. It would appear as if the Bolivians have lost any belief that they can get the draw which would take them through to the World Cup, and they are mostly chasing the home side’s players. Villegas, who had come into the side for this game, showcased his inability in possession when Paz robbed him of the ball and went on to produce a rising shot from 30 yards which went a yard over the bar, and a minute and 20 seconds into time added on, the Chilean referee brought the first half to an end.
At 2-0, the game appears almost over. Bolivia have not produced anything in terms of a goal threat, and it seemed as though it would take a grandiose collapse from the Uruguayans for the away side to come back into the tie in the second half.
It went without saying that something needed to be done with regards to Bolivian tactics. As it were, they were out of the tie, and probably also no longer with the chance to qualify for next year’s World Cup. They would most likely just get this one shot at it, and so they would need to approach the second half in much a different manner to the first. Not just were they two goals down, but they had not produced anything even remotely close to a goalscoring opportunity.
As the two teams returned on to the pitch, it quickly became evident that Mr Habegger had indeed made changes. The Argentinian head of Bolivian affairs had not just made a single substitution: He’d brought on both of those two available to him. This meant that there would be no second half appearances from right-back Montaño and playmaker Romero, with the latter possibly suffering from the effects after Gutiérrez’ challenge on him on the half hour, and on in their place had come youngster Erwin Sánchez and forward Álvaro Peña. The latter had impressed during the Bolivians’ win in the opposite meeting.
The Uruguayans were on the right track, and did not really need to alter anything, just to pay attention to how the Bolivian second half approach materialized. There’s about half a minute of footage lacking from the start of the second half, and so we arrive straight into the action, to familiar scenes from the first half, as the hosts are on the attack.
Early second period
While the hosts are good at letting the ball do the talking as they pass it well through their team, there is much less fluency to the visitors’ play once they win possession. The ‘golden four’ along the hosts’ left hand side, with full-back Domínguez lending Paz, Francescoli and Sosa support, had been putting a fair bit of pressure on Montaño during the first half. As the latter had been withdrawn at half-time, it was now the tall Ferrufino’s task to perform right-back duties. Having featured as the left-sided centre-half during the first 45, he was now playing out wide. Bolivia had switched to a 4-4-2 formation, with just Fontana and Martínez in the centre.
The somewhat ruffled Martínez had seen yellow in the first half for a foul on Francescoli, and the sizeable centre-back is fortunate not to walk as he scythes Sosa down near the byline. The lively Uruguay wide forward had darted past Martínez, and then been clipped down from behind. The referee must have realized that the defender had already been booked, and so let him off the hook.
For the first time in the game, Bolivia proceed to have a sustained spell of possession inside the Uruguayan half from around 50 minutes. Their switch in formation had increased their attacking options, as the tireless Ramallo was now supported up top by Peña. It appeared as if they were now playing in a midfield diamond formation, with Villegas mopping up at the rear, Melgar and Borja working right and left in the centre respectively, and with 19 year old Sánchez operating as the forward support in a role akin to what Romero had originally held. There was movement up front, and they were looking to pull the centre-backs wide. The experienced Uruguayan rearguard, though, would not be tricked easily.
‘Hothead’ Sánchez must walk
Bolivia’s brief spell of possession, from which they had not managed to test Pereira, came to a brutal halt eight and a half minutes into the second period of play. That was when Sánchez, inexplicably, decided to imitate a combined harvester just outside the hosts’ penalty area, where right-back Herrera was trying to make advance. Peña had failed to win a free-kick only seconds before, and perhaps was Sánchez trying to make a point to the referee. If so, it totally backfired, as he only heaped misery onto himself and his team mates: The referee felt that his wild lunge deserved a red card. It had been a cynical ‘tackle’, and señor Castro had probably got the decision right. Surely, ten men could not do what eleven had failed to muster so far. This was another major blow to Bolivian hopes.
In the wake of the sending-off
Sánchez’ manager must have been livid. At this stage, the last thing the visitors could have afforded was ill discipline and losing a man. They’d used both their substitutes, and one of them had made sure he’d only got nine minutes of action. It really was idiotic behaviour by the young, attack-minded player. In the minutes following the marching order, Bolivia would continue in much the same vein as until then, albeit with that most forward of the four midfielders having been directed towards the showers. They still had Villegas in more or less a marking role on Francescoli, while Melgar and Borja remained either side of the centre, right and left respectively. Interplay between the two forwards, Ramallo and Peña, had been scarce so far, as they were working relatively distant from one another, both clearly in wide capacities, as señor Habegger must have acknowledged that attacking the flanks would’ve had a slightly bigger chance of succeeding than through the centre.
The hosts remained largely unaffected by the visitors going a man down. They were still predominantly attacking towards their left hand side, and while Francescoli had obviously played a great part through scoring a delicate second goal, he was still not quite as visible in open play as Paz. However, the latter set him up for a shot from nearly 30 yards on 58 minutes, an effort which went well wide to the right, and about three minutes later, there was another highly debatable situation in which the former South American ‘Player of the Year’ appeared to have been mowed down inside the area. About a quarter of an hour into the first half, Fontana had done him in, and this time around, after Francescoli had nutmegged Ferrufino to make his passage into the area from the left, he looked to have been unceremoniously brought to the ground by Martínez. The referee is seen pointing in Francescoli’s direction as if he’s telling him “oh, nothing, son, get on with it!”, and to their credit, the home players refrain from protesting. Uruguay were surely robbed for a second time, though.
On 59 minutes, a home player had been booked for a second time in the game, when Sosa had failed to take the ball past Martínez as he had looked to gain entry into the area, again from the left. In a moment’s disappointment of not being allowed through, the prolific Italy based ace grabbed hold of the centre-back’s waist, and really pleaded for Mr Castro to book him. His application was duly granted.
What an eventful first quarter of an hour in this second half. Bolivia had surely dug their own grave through having one of their substitutes sent off, and Habegger did now not have plenty of scope for tactical variety. They would just carry on with four at the back, three across the middle and two up top, but Uruguay ‘keeper Pereira remained untested. At this rate, the hosts were grasping the opportunity to have World Cup qualification all in their own hands, as a win at home to pointless Peru in the final tie of the group would see them through. It was merited. They were by far the better and more articulate side of the two.
Uruguay’s first change
With the game largely over as a contest, little is happening towards the midway point of the second half, which is also when Tabárez opts to make his first substitution of the afternoon. Off came the highly influental Paz, whose engaging in little triangles and clever running along the left-sided channels had proved effective, and he gave his successor Pablo Bengoechea a little kiss on the cheek as they quickly embraced on the touchline. The 24 year old Spain based midfielder was a player in much the same mould as Paz, with both typically harbouring attacking credentials. The same substitution had happened in Lima three weeks earlier too, while Paz had remained on the pitch alongside Bengoechea in La Paz, where they’d been looking for an equalizer at the time when the Sevilla man had been introduced.
Little changes in the home side’s approach with the introduction of Bengoechea, although not a natural left-footer like Paz, the Uruguayans do perhaps not rediscover exactly the same fluency along the left hand channel as they’d enjoyed until then. There’s a long ball forward from inside his own half by Perdomo in the direction of the ever-willing Alzamendi, though the diagonal pass is cut out by Trucco, who had come well out from his area, and despite some hesitancy once he’d reached the ball, he’d eventually been able to clear his lines.
Team in green’s first opportunity
The visitors would actually go on and produce a couple of decent moments around 70 minutes. They’d hardly displayed any crisp, purposeful forward passing all afternoon, but when Fontana advances with the ball without being put pressure on inside his own half, he can release Melgar along the right, who in turn attempts to feed an initiative from Borja. The Bolivian captain had not had much of a say all day, but it was a fine diagonal run, although Melgar’s ball got cleared away for a right wing corner by home left-back Domínguez. The subsequent flag kick from Borja was headed down by Peña into the feet of Martínez, who in turn relayed the ball for Melgar to strike low from 20 yards. His effort drew the first save from Pereira, who cat-like threw himself to his right and double-palmed the ball out for a left wing Bolivia corner. The visitors would never get that close to scoring again.
Hosts close again
Uruguay had already been close to a third goal, and on 74 minutes it seemed they were about to be further rewarded for their expressive performance. Vargas switched off for a moment as he thought he’d won a throw-in off Alzamendi midway inside his own half, only for the referee to have no objections to Alzamendi’s opportunistic, quick throw to Francescoli. The home captain then released the winger down the right, and with Vargas out of position, it was centre-back Martínez who followed him. It looked as if Francescoli’s return pass had been inch-perfect, but once Alzamendi’s square pass along the six yard area had reached Sosa, who could only have tucked it into the back of an empty net, Mr Castro’s whistle sounded for offside. It had been very marginal.
The home side were good at working little triangles between various players, and one such, when an inside pass from Herrera to Ostolaza saw the latter release the right-back down the channel, almost carved out another opportunity, as Herrera’s cross into the centre, over Trucco, was flicked out for a left wing corner by Ferrufino. Alzamendi, who had taken a short corner, was soon picked out again by Bengoechea once he’d arrived at the corner of the penalty area, and he drew a save from Trucco low down with a diagonal drive.
A second marching order
As if the visitors weren’t already aware that they were down and out, their oldest player by far went on to produce another moment which to the neutral appeared outright foolish. Sánchez had kicked Herrera early in the half, though his actions could’ve been blamed on him being ‘young and inexperienced’. You could not use that argument against Fontana, who was on a yellow card following his first half dissent. However, when he arrived studs first in a wild tackle on Perdomo 30 yards out, it was a challenge which had warranted a straight red rather than a second yellow. Either way, the referee displayed the more severe of the two cards in the 38 year old’s face, and Fontana would walk with 13 minutes left for play. Bolivia were down to nine men.
There had been some on-pitch debating between the hugely frustrated Fontana and Uruguay’s two centre-backs before the defender had walked off. Initially, it had perhaps not looked that severe a challenge, but replays revealed its cruel nature. Fontana had impacted with his studs almost knee-high on Perdomo’s right leg, and the midfielder was subsequently seen hobbling towards the touchline for treatment, before Uruguay’s second and final substitution of the game was announced: 21 year young Peñarol midfielder Gabriel Correa would see time out in Perdomo’s central role among the three players in the hosts’ engine room. It was his second substitute appearance of the qualification.
Through to full time
The remaining nine visiting players regrouped in 4-2-2 formation, although it was relatively immaterial at that point. The game was since long up anyway, and the Uruguayans predominantly opted to exercise the famous keep-ball pastime. Ferrufino went back into central defence upon Fontana’s dismissal, while Melgar would see out what was left of the game in a right-back position. Villegas and Borja were left to deal with midfield almost alone, although it could be argued that Peña attempted to help them out at times (thus perhaps giving them a 4-3-1 shape), something which once again left Ramallo to chase shadows alone up top. Intensity levels had dropped, and both teams appeared to be going through the motions. Herrera and de León were seen with half-hearted shots from way out, of which neither found the target.
Referee Castro lets the game run until almost 48 minutes, and though he was right that there had been incidents warranting additional time to be played, he would probably have made both teams a service had he called it off earlier. However, there’s still a pair of moments down either end of the pitch after 90 minutes, with Sosa first playing a little triangle with Bengoechea from a left wing corner. He took the return ball past a very half-hearted challenge from Borja and then sidestepped Villegas, before shooting low right-footed towards the bottom left of goal, where Trucco, to the ‘keeper’s credit, got down to save and even hold on to the ball. It had gone in otherwise.
The eight outfield players of the visitors then worked themselves into a free-kick position to the left outside the penalty area after Gutiérrez’ foul on Borja, though Melgar’s ball towards the near post got headed away for a flag kick by Herrera before Peña could get to it, and that was that: The hosts had done the job, and they were now just a win, two points, behind table-toppers Bolivia, whose set of fixtures had been completed. La Celeste would know in a week’s time whether they would be following Argentina and Brazil through to Italy from the CONMEBOL section.
Uruguay got the win which they had needed in order to remain with a chance to qualify. In their customary 4-3-3 formation, they dominated nearly right through the game, rarely offering the plucky visitors respite from the relentless pressure. The hosts’ left hand side was instrumental in the torment, and Domínguez, Pas, Francescoli and Sosa contributed big time to Bolivia’s downfall. By the time Sosa scored his third goal in three qualifiers, the home pressure appeared to have eased a little, but two goals in the space of eight minutes, with captain Francescoli also getting in on the act with his first of the ongoing qualification, seemed to have done enough damage.
Arguably the biggest name among the home players, Francescoli finally lived up to expectations after two fairly muted away performances. However, Paz still seemed to outshine him. Still, it was the talisman who twice was scythed down inside the area, only for the Chilean referee to wave ‘play on’.
Bolivia tried to introduce an attacking substitute in the shape of teenager Sánchez for the start of the second half, though his cameo lasted a mere eight and a half minutes before he got himself sent off for an outright stupid challenge on Herrera. It was really all over by then: Ten men surely did not have enough to deliever any damage to far superior hosts, and later, even Fontana, twice the age of Sánchez, made sure that the Bolivians saw the game out with just eight outfield players for a wild lunge at Perdomo.
Uruguay were better, smarter, stronger and more flexible. They so deserved their win.
1 Pereira 6.9
had preciously little to do; faced a single shot against, which he saved low to his right. Collected a couple of high balls with ease and confidence
2 Gutiérrez 7.1
an early display of nerves apart, this was just about a faultless display from the big centre-back, despite the constant presence of Ramallo
3 de León 7.2
a confident display in which he even offered himself through a few runs into the opposition’s half. Did need to keep an eye on the industrious Ramallo, but in tandem, de León and Gutiérrez coped with relative ease
4 Herrera 7.0
not quite as attacking as his full-back companion, even if he came forward more the longer the game progressed. Along with Ostolaza, he neutralized Borja, and he was assured in his passing game
5 Perdomo 7.0
the midfield hard man put a few shots from distance in, though just two were on target. Didn’t seem too affected by his early yellow, and proved effective against Romero. Off with injury
(13 Correa –
saw the match out in the central midfield position, and kept his game simple and effective)
6 Domínguez 7.2
excelled during the first half, when he came forward to good effect, and had the ‘second assist’ for Francescoli’s goal. Bolivia didn’t attack down the flanks, so defensively he was never in trouble
7 Alzamendi 6.9
somewhat less visible on this occasion, as he didn’t have plenty of space in which to make use of his pace, but constantly on the move, and came inside to provide a delightful touch to assist his captain for 2-0
8 Ostolaza 7.2
another steadying performance from the base of their midfield, and his wonderfully flighted ball for Sosa to assist for 1-0 was pure quality. Unrivalled in challenges, and played his part in Uruguay winning the midfield battle
9 Francescoli 7.4
did his best to shake off the attention from Villegas, and succeeded to the extent that he scored a delicious second goal, and should’ve been awarded two penalties. Effortless combinations with Paz and Sosa, and this was easily his best performance in the ongoing qualification
10 Paz 7.5
so often the creator with his vision and delightful passing. Made sure to keep the tempo up through being crisp, and combined so well along the left with vital team mates. Off for tactical reasons
(14 Bengoechea –
some nice touches as he played the ball first time on several occasions, but could not replicate the form of his predecessor when filling in as the inside left midfielder)
11 Sosa 7.4
such a busy player down that left hand side, and proved his worth through that lethal strike for 1-0. Took up some good positions, and was a particular menace to Montaño during the first half
20 Trucco 6.7
didn’t always look so secure when coming off his line, but a fine shot-stopper, and hardly to blame for either goal, which were both sound finishes. Booked for time-wasting
3 Fontana 6.6
safey first approach. Did mop up behind his centre-backs on a few occasions, though was fortunate to escape a penalty in the first half. Yellow for dissent, and then deservedly sent off for a wild lunge at Perdomo
4 Ferrufino 6.6
kept his game simple. Shadowed Alzamendi first half, whilst he got switched to right-back after the break. Uruguay overloaded less that side in the final 45
7 Melgar 6.7
again proved his ability to hold on to the ball in tight situations, invaluable to his team, but could not motor them forward as he lacked midfield support. Had Bolivia’s only effort on target
8 Borja 6.6
had returned after hs one match absence, though from a left-sided midfield position he, too, could not make much of an impact on the proceedings, despite his non-stop running
9 Villegas 5.9
shadowed Francescoli to the best of his ability, but failed to take the Uruguayan playmaker out completely, and was no apt replacement for Soria. Very wasteful in possession
10 Romero 6.2
honestly a disappointment on this performance, in which he failed to exert any attacking influence. Very well marshalled by the two defensive home midfielders. Took a whack to his knee, and didn’t appear for the start of the second half
(16 Sánchez –
showed some ambition and early promise after being introduced for the start of the second half, but his time on the pitch came to a premature end when he inexplicably decided to hack Herrera down)
14 Martínez 6.9
the big stalwart at the heart of the Bolivian defence once again came out of a tie with credit: He put himself about in challenges, and despite his lack of acceleration, he did manage to get most of his tackles right, with an exception in the second half, when he ought to have been awarded a penalty against
15 Vargas 6.5
assisted Ferrufino in keeping tabs on Alzamendi. Steady enough in his positioning, but useless on the two occasions when he contributed inside the opposition half
18 Ramallo 6.7
such a difficult ask to get much from working in solitude against a world class centre-back pairing. Credit for his incessant running and chasing, but ultimately he was unable to hold the ball up and bring others into play
23 Montaño 6.1
conceded a number of free-kicks as he failed to cope with the nimbleness of the opposition. His plight was not helped by the fact that the hosts often overloaded his side when they attacked, and with plenty of quality. Replaced at half-time
(19 Peña 6.0
rarely seen in possession, and didn’t give as much chase as his strike partner. Ineffective second half performance)