Half-time changes did it for the Colombians
The race to reach the intercontinental, two-legged play-off final was about to reach its crescendo: Paraguay had travelled to the north west shores of Colombia with the knowledge of a draw being sufficient to see them through as group winners, even prior to their final fixture in Ecuador. Host Colombia, meanwhile, were well aware that nothing but a win would keep them in the hunt still, and then they’d need assistance from an Ecuadorian team which had not yet won in three outings. It is correct to assume at this point that Paraguay are firmly in the driver’s seat.
This is what the group table looked like after last week’s win for the Paraguayans:
Colombia team news
After collecting just a single point from their two travels, Colombia were with their backs against the wall. Well aware of the fact that nothing but victory was good enough against a Paraguay side which had done well to win both of their qualifiers so far, albeit both at home, manager Francisco Maturana could be looking forward to welcoming back vital performers such as Bernardo Redín and Leonel Álvarez after their respective suspensions for the journey to Guayaquil.
It had been a heated affair when these two had met in Asunción, with no less than six yellow cards and even that red for Álvarez for clashing with Nunes. Colombia would need to focus on football, not warfare. Could they replicate the form from their solitary home qualifier hitherto, when they’d beaten Ecuador by 2-0? So far in the qualification, they had scored three goals, and all had carried Arnoldo Iguarán’s signature. The 32 year old marksman would need to be sharp again, but Maturana would surely look to see goal threats from other players, too.
One notable absentee was José Ricardo Pérez, who had started all three of their previous qualifiers in one of the two holding midfield positions. The steady Atlético Nacional player had excelled in their opening tie, but not quite managed to follow up for their two games away from home. Another player not in the squad was left-back Carlos Hoyos, who had completed the full set of 90 minutes both in Asunción and in Guayaquil. With León Villa again available, though, his absence would probably not be too sorely felt. Young central defender Wilmer Cabrera was the third player not present in the squad of 16 since last time around.
In addition to the return of Álvarez and Redín, defender Alexis Mendoza was back in place of Cabrera, most likely to fill the defender alibi among the five substitutes. Mendoza, a strapping Atlético Junior centre-back, had been an unused substitute for their first two qualifiers.
Paraguay team news
Despite not always having it all their own way against a stubborn Ecuador last week, Paraguay had collected the two points for victory. This had set them up so well ahead of their remaining two matches, although both of those were away from home. Last time they had faced Colombia, it had been a very feisty encounter, and in addition to the Colombians’ one red card, the referee had issued no less than six yellows.
The Paraguayans had experienced first hand a red card of their own last Sunday in Asunción, when 24 year old goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert had been sent off a few minutes from time for an altercation with Raúl Avilés after the latter had gone to collect the ball out from the net following his goal. This obviously meant that the Spain based custodian was suspended for this qualifier, and so, rather than facing Colombia in Barranquilla, Chilavert was in action in the Spanish topflight, where his Real Zaragoza drew 3-3 at home to Tenerife. The fiery character would go on and pick up no less than ten (!) yellow cards from his 34 performances during the course of the 1989/90 Primera División season.
Roberto Cabañas had been back leading the forward line against Ecuador, but to manager Cayetano Ré’s disappointment, the big, strong forward, who had opened the scoring with a terrific header, was unavailable on this occasion, as his French club Brest had not wanted to release him. Cabañas had featured in the 2-0 away league defeat at Mulhouse the day before this qualifier. Back in the mix, though, was wide attacker Alfredo Mendoza. Also a feature for the same French top division club, Mendoza had been unavailable for the previous qualifier due to involvement at club level, but had been released this time around. It would appear that Brest only let one from the pair participate in World Cup qualification at a time.
The only other player to come into the 16 man strong matchday squad for this tie, was goalkeeper Rubén Ruiz Díaz, only 19 years of age. He had been understudy to Fernández during the Copa América, and even appeared in the final of their four first group stage ties, the 2-0 loss to hosts Brazil. That had been the tall ‘keeper of Argentinian outfit Talleres’ (de Córdoba) international debut.
If Paraguay were to obtain at least a draw here in Estadio Metropolitano, Barranquilla, they were already through to the World Cup despite having an outstanding fixture, namely the journey to Guayaquil to play Ecuador the following Sunday. They had defeated the Colombians twice in telling matches in the space of two months, so there must have been a level of confidence within their camp that they could get a result again.
The man in the middle for this fixture was 47 year old Uruguayan Juan Cardellino. Considering the debacles in the opposite fixture, it was probably expected again, also taking into matter the significance of the tie, that it could get a little heated. Cardellino had refereed twice already in the 1982 World Cup (the group stage game between Chile and Austria (0-1), as well as the semi-final between Poland and Italy (0-2)). Needless to say, he was a very experienced official.
Having been on FIFA’s list since 1977, Cardellino had no less than 28 Copa Libertadores appearances on his CV. He had officiated in four Copa Américas, and had twice run the rule over hosts Brazil in the most recent edition (3-1 v Venezuela in the opening game and later 2-0 v Argentina in the second group stage). He had also overseen Brazil’s 4-0 friendly win at home to Portugal in June, and indeed taken charge of two group stage games in the 1988 Olympic football tournament in Seoul: West Germany 3-0 China and Soviet Union 3-0 Australia.
Meeting for the 23rd time in history, Colombia had the inferior record in the two countries’ head-to-head: 8-2-12. However, that was mainly owed to the fact that they had lost each and every of their eight first face-offs, from the inaugural encounter in 1947 right through to a 2-1 loss in 1969.
They had met in World Cup qualification on no less than four previous occasions: Before the 1958, 1970, 1978 and 1986 tournaments. Paraguay had won six from those eight ties, only losing the last one back in November ’85. While just two players from that day remained in Colombia’s matchday squad (defender Escobar and midfield playmaker Valderrama), no less than 10 of the 13 Paraguayans in action that day in Cali were still present. This clearly showed the level of experience available to Cayetano Ré.
It was definitely worth pointing out that Paraguay had defeated Colombia both in the recent first group stage of the Copa América tournament in Brazil (1-0, goal by Mendoza) and the World Cup qualifier in Asunción, with goalkeeper Chilavert’s winner coming deep, deep into injury time.
The complete, official name was ‘Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez’, with the name being given to honour a former player and manager who had enjoyed a playing career in the 30s and 40s, and then gone on to manage the Colombian national team, all this whilst the football in the country still was at an amateur level.
The stadium was only built in the 80s, and its completion saw to that the grand opening took place in May 1986. The Metropolitano succeeded the city of Barranquilla’s major stadium until then, Estadio Romelio Martínez, and the original idea had been for it to provide one of the venues for the 1986 World Cup, which had been awarded to Colombia in 1979. As we know, they would in turn hand the arrangement over to Mexico, but a 65 000 capacity venue was nevertheless the new pride for sporting events on the Pacific Ocean coast in Colombia.
Barranquilla club Atlético Junior were playing their home matches here.
|1 René Higuita||23||Atlético Nacional|
|2 Andrés Escobar||22||Atlético Nacional|
|4 Wilson Pérez||65′||22||Atlético Junior|
|5 León Villa||29||Atlético Nacional|
|8 Gabriel Gómez||sub h-t||29||Independiente Medellín|
|10 Bernardo Redín||26||Deportivo Cali|
|11 Rubén Darío Hernández||24||Millonarios|
|12 Carlos Valderrama (c)||sub h-t||28||Montpellier|
|14 Leonel Álvarez||24||Atlético Nacional|
|15 Luis Carlos Perea||25||Atlético Nacional|
|16 Arnoldo Iguarán||32||Millonarios|
|19 Eduardo Niño||22||Santa Fe|
|3 Alexis Mendoza||28||Atlético Junior|
|7 Albeiro Usuriaga||on h-t||23||Atlético Nacional|
|9 Juan Jairo Galeano||27||Atlético Nacional|
|17 Luis Fajardo||on h-t||26||Atlético Nacional|
|1 Roberto Fernández||35||Cerro Porteño|
|2 Virginio Cáceres||27||Guaraní|
|3 César Zabala||28||Cerro Porteño|
|4 Juan Torales||33||Libertad|
|5 Rogelio Delgado (c)||29||Independiente|
|6 Jorge Guasch||28||Olimpia|
|7 Eumelio Palacios||sub 25′||25||Libertad|
|8 Julio César Romero||29||Puebla|
|9 Buenaventura Ferreira||29||Guaraní|
|10 Jorge Nunes||18′, sub 62′||27||Deportivo Cali|
|11 Alfredo Mendoza||25||Stade Brest|
|x Rubén Ruiz Díaz||19||Talleres|
|13 Luis Caballero||on 62′||27||Guaraní|
|15 Gustavo Neffa||on 25′||17||Olimpia|
|x Javier Ferreira||20||Necaxa|
|x Ramón Hicks||30||Oviedo|
Huge anticipation all around: Could Colombia do what was demanded of them and take both points against the table topping opponents? They had perhaps been a tad unlucky to concede deep into injury time last time these two had met, and had faced an inspired rearguard in Guayaquil during the goalless draw in Ecuador. On home soil, though, they were favourites, even against a team which had looked sound so far, and which had also been the better of the pair three weeks ago in the Paraguayan capital.
Kicking the game into life were the home side’s attacking midfield duo of captain Carlos Valderrama and Bernardo Redín. The former had not fired on all cylinders in his previous three appearances in this qualification, whilst Redín was back in the starting eleven following his suspension last time around. They were kicking from right to left as the cameras were looking.
Interesting opening exchanges
The match starts in an attacking fashion, and unsurprisingly, it is the home side starting on the front foot. It appears as if they have no intentions of being accused of a lack of effort, even though a single goal in theory is sufficient. They come at the visitors right from the off, and Paraguay, it seems, accept the fact that they’re there to be shot at.
At times so far in the qualification, Colombia had been too laboured in their approach. They had looked at their best when they took the direct route towards goal and with 32 year old Millonarios forward Arnoldo Iguarán appearing through the centre. His two headed goals in their opening win against Ecuador had been something else, and in addition to his majestic leap, Iguarán had displayed his tremendous acceleration. For someone getting on a bit age wise, he sure had kept that spring in his heel. This time around, though, featuring in a front pairing with Millonarios partner Rubén Hernández, he looked to begin the game towards the right handed channel. Perhaps the idea was to pull Paraguay’s centre-backs wide, and also to create space for the attacking midfielders through the centre. Hernández, too, was out wide, on the opposite side, but that had been expected. The wide forward would again nearly hug the line.
If Colombia had sometimes taken too many touches in their attempts to reach their destination, the opposite could be said about the Paraguayans. You would think it suited them to sit back and soak up pressure, hitting teams on the break, although they had certainly had more possession than the Colombians when they had come face to face in Asunción. Away from home, though, it was looking like they prefered sitting back and wait for the home side to come at them. They did have pace going forward, so if the Colombian defence got lured too high in the pitch, perhaps it could be something which they could exploit on the break.
There’s efforts on target inside the first five and a half minutes from both Gabriel Gómez and Bernardo Redín, two of the hosts’ midfield men, although both had been simple saves for tall, lean goalkeeper Roberto Fernández, who was back in the side again following his first choice status during the continental championships. Just shy of eight minutes, Fernández is tested for a third time, when a clever Valderrama pass on the blindside of César Zabala finds Hernández inside the area, and the forward hits it with his weaker right foot. Fernández must save low down to his left, but there had been no real conviction behind the shot. The same Hernández was looking lively; he’d struck one wildly wide with his right foot even early on.
Colombia looked very determined. They put in some robust challenges in these opening minutes, and in particular right back Wilson Pérez enjoyed to dish it out. He’d gone in hard on Paraguay midfielder Jorge Guasch, who went down on the touchline, though after a little time on the ground, the Olimpia Asunción club captain got back on to his feet again. Another tackle came from big centre-back Luis Carlos Perea, who brought down midfield engine Julio César Romero hard, necessetating another short break in play for the visiting player to take a breather. If the opening ten minutes were anything to go by, the audience were in for a treat.
Pérez fired up
Colombia remain on the front foot, but the intensity and drive with which they had started the game had perhaps eased off somewhat by the quarter hour mark. Not that of right-back Wilson Pérez, though. 14 minutes in, when he’d played the ball past Romero in another attempt at making inroads going forward, he’d taken a tad heavy touch, with the ball spinning away from him. In trying to redeem himself, he went into a major studs-first challenge on Paraguay striker Eumelio Palacios. It was a nasty bit of play, and the 24 year old Libertad man went down in agony. His right ankle appeared to have taken the brunt of the impact. He gritted his teeth and bravely got back up to resume play shortly after, but he was clearly still in pain. Pérez, meanwhile, could consider himself fortunate to not have been booked. In a more modern time and era, his challenge would’ve been classified as a sending-off offence.
Visitors at a glance
The Paraguayans had taken to the pitch in their two previous matches with the intention of dominating their opponents for possession, even if they were relying on a relatively direct route towards goal. They had several capable ball players in their ranks, despite the fact that their biggest star, ‘Romerito’, had yet to fire on all cylinders. Having been out of the Copa América due to injury, he’d not influenced on the team so far in the qualification to the extent that would’ve been expected. He’d only come off the bench in the most recent outing, the 2-1 win over Ecuador, but had been thrusted back into the starting line-up for this grand occasion.
Keeping goal was 35 year old Roberto Fernández after Chilavert’s antics against the Ecuadorians. Fernández, seemingly a calmer figure than the Real Sociedad based custodian, obviously was not lacking in terms of experience, and he’d indeed been Paraguay’s ‘keeper for the four matches in the previous World Cup. He had good reach, a fine jump, and he was good at coming off his line to close down the opposition’s angle. It is not as if they were a weakened side with Fernández between the posts rather than Chilavert.
The four man in the defensive line remained the same: Virginio Cáceres at right-back, César Zabala as the spare man, bearded captain Rogelio Delgado working in front of him in the heart of the defence, and with the reliable Juan Torales in the left-back position. Neither full-back had been particularly adventurous coming forward in their two home qualifiers, and so it would hardly be expected of them to contribute to a greater extent in such fashion here on foreign soil. Defensively, though, they were both sound, and in particular Cáceres seemed good at tucking in and aiding his central defence when needs be.
Zabala was one of the team’s more influental players. He had a good leap, and challenged very well in the air. He didn’t look too robust in his frame, yet he had strong presence at both ends of the pitch, something which meant he would often come forward for attacking set-pieces. He seemed to have a tidy understanding with Delgado, and Zabala would even be there or thereabouts when there was a chance to deliever a free-kick goalwards. As for Argentina based Delgado, he was exceptional at interceptions, and with his bulky frame, he was hardly the player whom opposing forwards were looking to engage with in physical battle. Great tempo neither may have had, but in an organized unit, Zabala and Delgado gave a very favourable impression.
The Paraguayan set-up had been 4-3-3 for both their home ties, and it was so again, although on this occasion they had turned the midfield ‘V’ on its head: Rather than having a single man sitting deep, they now had both Jorge Guasch and his namesake Nunes in holding roles, offering the central defence assistance against an opponent which was not reluctant to using central areas of the pitch when they were coming forward. Guasch was perhaps the more eye-catchingly combative of the two, with silver-haired Nunes a more capable player in possession, although the latter, too, had given accounts hitherto in the qualification of his ability to fight. As you’d expect, the right-footed Guasch sat to the right of left-footed Nunes. The balance in their defensive shape appeared impeccable.
In a much more liberated midfield role was Julio César Romero. The 29 year old was back in the starting eleven, and he seemed to be operating towards the left handed channel on this occasion. However, his freedom to do pretty much as he pleased seemed extended, and a week on from his previous participation, he also seemed stronger and more enthusiastic. Good at shielding the ball from the opponents, he was someone whom his team mates were naturally seeking once they’d broken up the hosts’ play, and working towards the left hand area of the pitch, Romero would try and engage with wide left forward Mendoza.
Up front, Roberto Cabañas had made a big difference in returning for the win against Ecuador. He had great physical presence, and the headed goal which had given his country the lead in that fixture had been a joy to watch. However, as his French club, Brest, seemed to only allow one of their two Paraguayans to travel at a time, it was Cabañas who was missing on this occasion. And rather than give 17 year old starlet Gustavo Neffa, who was alledgedly touted by Italian giants Juventus, another start, manager Ré had decided to bring 25 year old Palacios the opportunity to excel. So far, he’d not been brought into play a whole lot, as the hosts had dominated the opening quarter of an hour, and he’d been subjected to that brutal tackle from Pérez. In the wake of that, Palacios’ facial expressions were not those of someone in a positive frame of mind.
With Cabañas staying put in Brest, it meant Alfredo Mendoza’s second appearance of the ongoing qualification. The left-sided forward was another experienced member of the team, and he provided guile and pace in coming forward down his flank. At times, he would also swap sides with fellow wide forward Buenaventura Ferreira, but Mendoza was clearly at his best when he could make use of the space laying in front of him as he bombed down the left-sided flank. He would also be given the responsibility to deliever set-pieces into the area, and it was fair to say he was a vital member of the side.
As for Ferreira, on the opposite side from Mendoza, he, too, brought plenty of know-how to the team. One of no less than ten starters who had participated during the 1986 World Cup (Palacios was the odd man out), he would bring to the side pretty much what Mendoza did. He did perhaps not have the same level of flair as the France based left-sided forward, but Ferreira’s determination was second to none. He was perhaps involved to a lesser extent than Mendoza, as Paraguay, at least so far, were looking to attack towards the left. This could well be due to the Colombian right-back’s desire to venture forward.
More evenly balanced
While the game has evened out somewhat by the time the clock arrives at 20 minutes, it is still the home side which look the stronger. Colombia have greater movement, and they involve a higher number of players when coming forward. Still, they find it difficult to breach the patient Paraguayan rearguard, which doesn’t have too many problems in repelling what’s coming at them. Despite their efforts, despite engaging their full-backs high up in the pitch, the Colombians can’t quite stretch their visitors. Efforts from distance have so far been their peak level. There’s yet another from Redín on 19 minutes, when he’s fed the ball by Hernández, though he’s just swivelled around his own axis, and his left-footed attempt from 20 yards happens as he’s partially off balance. It ends up in the safe grasp of Fernández, despite taking an awkward bounce right in front of the ‘keeper.
The visitors have Palacios struggling in the wake of that abysmal challenge which Pérez had exposed him for earlier. He’s hobbling around the pitch for a short while, until he goes to the touchline and lays down for treatment, clearly in some distress. By this point, it is looking debatable whether he will be able to continue. Still, would bringing Gustavo Neffa on necessarily weaken them? He’d looked strong and enterprising thus far in the qualification, and had proved a capable player even at top international level at his very tender age.
Paraguay are given a player warning when they are late in dispatching a free-kick nearly 35 yards from goal, out in the left-sided channel. Nunes and Mendoza had been standing over it, and the former was not quite happy with the distance which the hosts had built their defensive wall. He had pointed and demonstrated, something which referee Cardellino certainly didn’t take much of a liking to. The Uruguayan official comes sprinting across to Nunes, comes right into his face and produces the yellow card with fury in his eyes. It was obvious that the man in black was not going to tolerate any kind of fuss. Nunes eventually proceeds by poking the ball to Mendoza, who lets fly, only to see his long-distance effort bounce off Higuita’s chest. The ‘keeper makes it look so effortless, and he even plays the ball out to his defender without touching the ball with his hands.
Colombia: A study
Colombia had lined up in their version of the 4-4-2 formation for the fourth successive time in the ongoing qualification. However, there were some tweaks compared to their three previous outings, when their four across the midfield had taken up more or less a ‘2-2 shape’ (as in 4-2-2-2). On this occasion, they were deploying just one player at the rear of midfield, while they had another working between the holding man and the two attacking ones. It was something which had been unseen in their qualification hitherto, but it was still an interesting plot by Maturana.
René Higuita continued in goal, and after having conceded that penalty in injury time last time when these two had met, he must have felt the urge to redeem himself. It seemed unlikely that his confidence had taken much of a battering, as he had remained the same character for the journey to Guayaquil. He’d kept a clean sheet there in Ecuador, and despite his lack of size for a goalkeeper, he was undeterred when coming off his line to try and come for high balls. It didn’t matter if the visitors had put their strongest header forward. Higuita would come to punch. Just after the eleven minute mark, he’d come racing out of his area, and had continued all the way across the halfway line, before realizing where he was, and then leaving the ball for Wilson Pérez to handle. There seemed to be a reason for why he was nicknamed ‘el loco’.
Three of the four defenders were about to complete Colombia’s qualification schedule. They were right-back Wilson Pérez, central defenders Andrés Escobar, working as their spare man, and the colossal Luis Carlos Perea, while left-back León Villa came back into the side having not featured since their opening qualifier, also at home. In the mean time, Carlos Hoyos had deputised. Pérez was a resolute, strong-tackling player with a great will to come forward, while the full-back on the opposite side looked stronger joining the attack than he did whenever he needed to defend. Only Pérez among the quartet was not from reigning continental champions Atlético Nacional of Medellín.
In the centre, 22 year young Escobar played with a huge level of confidence and maturity. A natural left footer, he would often hit the ball diagonally towards the right, and often seek out Pérez when doing so. Escobar was so strong in the air, and it was almost unthinkable for him to lose an aerial duel. At least that was the case so far in the qualification. The same could very much be said for his partner Perea. The 25 year old was perhaps not that tall for a central defender, but he was equipped with one of the widest chests you could imagine. This made him a rock-like figure just ahead of Escobar. With Perea a right-footer, he would typically be found to his libero’s advanced right.
The player tasked with sitting at the rear of their midfield on this occasion, was Leonel Álvarez. Back from his one-match suspension following the red card he’d been handed in Asunción, the Atlético Nacional regista was typically a highly efficient player in the deep of the engine room. He positioned himself well, and would put himself about should the need for a challenge arise. Álvarez would make interceptions, and he was often the player whom the two centre-backs passed to.
With no Ricardo Pérez to be seen anywhere in the matchday squad, Gabriel Gómez kept his place in the side. However, rather than working directly in tandem with Álvarez at the back of their midfield, he had made one step ahead in the pitch, working directly in and around the centre-circle, as something of a link-up player between the man behind him and the two attacking midfielders. This was one way for Maturana to express his greater emphasis on attack, though it is debatable whether this constellation had worked in practice so far. Gómez had not been on the ball a whole lot, and when he was, all he seemed to do was look for either of those two directly ahead of him. There was little in terms of inventive play.
Another player who had returned to the starting eleven after serving his suspension in their previous qualifier two weeks ago, was Bernardo Redín. Operating as the central right among their two attacking midfielders, the strong, imposing playmaker had shown up just outside the penalty area on several occasions already, looking to have a pop at goal. Redín had enjoyed a more impressive qualification than his offensive midfield partner Carlos Valderrama thus far, and even in this game he was playing at a higher visibility level. Redín looked like a bulldozer when accelerating in the forward direction, and his powerful flight made him someone hard to stop. As for Valderrama, he’d drifted out of games too much this far, and certainly not stamped his authority on Colombia’s qualification as could’ve been hoped. His vision still remained second to none, though, as shown when he’d threaded Hernández through earlier.
Up top, 32 year old Arnoldo Iguarán had so far been Colombia’s solitary goalscorer in the qualification. He’d notched both goals in their opening 2-0 win over Ecuador, both had been terrific headers, while he’d punished the Paraguayans with a low, left-footed finish in Asunción. He was a constant menace, and the way he would accelerate into the area ball at feet was sometimes almost unreal for a player his age. On this occasion, he was working more towards the channel along the right, while he’d been found through the centre earlier.
To counter Iguarán’s aerial threat, Colombia had his Millonarios team mate Rubén Hernández as his forward partner. A player with a relatively low point of gravity, Hernández had displayed his desire to attack down the left flank in his previous appearances in this qualification, and he had indeed continued in the same vein here. He was working more or less as a left-sided forward, and he would look to get in behind full-back Cáceres and either run straight at goal himself, for he knew how to be direct, or look for Iguarán or one of the midfielders in the area. Hernández had enough tricks up his sleeve to be able to vary his game, and so his unpredictability would cause the visitors some concern.
As expected, Palacios’ would depart the scene prematurely. His afternoon came to an end 25 minutes into the game, even though he’d looked improved in his final couple of minutes out on the pitch. Paraguay do not mind to hoist long balls in the forward direction, and one such from Zabala found Palacios, who flicked it on for Ferreira to run through. However, despite Palacios’ header being precise, the wide right man, who had crept into the middle ahead of the centre-forward on this occasion, took a heavy touch, and the ball went through to Higuita before any danger could arise. Palacios then attempted a wild shot from 45 yards, noticing how the Colombian goalkeeper had strayed off his line. He couldn’t find sufficient power in his effort, though. On for Palacios came, as had been anticipated, Gustavo Neffa.
More ‘nearly’ action
When Paraguay have realized that they are capable of holding on to the ball and stringing sequences of passes together, they become somewhat more daring. In the centre of midfield, Nunes is perhaps not quite looking like the force he can be, as if the deeper role doesn’t quite suit him. However, he does display his cool head on a couple of occasions, and furthermore, the visitors look to deploy Romero and Mendoza in combination towards the left. Not that they can make a whole lot of inroads, though the former of the pair set Guasch up with a shooting chance on 26 minutes. Without belief, the midfielder hit it wildly over the target.
The tussle between Hernández and Cáceres is an interesting one, and the hosts do look to set their left-sided forward up down that flank. Also, there is something of an attacking threat coming from left-back Villa, who makes a strong burst through the centre, before trying to play a one-two with Valderrama which doesn’t come off. There’s also a fine involvement from Gómez, who goes on a run right through the heart of the Paraguayan defence, and he’s almost fed a pass by Redín, only to see Cáceres step inside and scramble it clear.
It is a bit of a see-saw show at the moment, although Paraguay continue to be reluctant in committing an increased number of players forward at the same time. This makes them fairly easy to read, and quite predictable. Neffa, who was brought on, had been a straight swap for Palacios, working through the centre, and he was doing his best in trying to fend off the challenge from the beefy Perea. Neffa had made a cute run, but hadn’t managed to hold it back enough, and he was offside from Guasch’ through ball on 35 minutes. A couple of minutes later, the 17 year old was tumbled to the ground by Escobar, and Zabala seized on the opportunity to strike at goal from 22 yards, to the left of the target. Right-footed, the libero drew a save from Higuita, although replays showed that the ball would’ve clipped the outside of the post anyway.
Down the other end, Iguarán, lively in spells, came close to breaking the deadlock in the 36th minute, as he turned Torales and then sprinted past Delgado before the Paraguayan captain could get a challenge in. It was such a swift change of pace, and Iguarán arrived towards the corner of the six yard area, where he came just too close to the outrushing Fernández, who’d done brilliantly in coming off his line to deny with his legs the striker a shot at goal.
Tough on Nunes
Some tackles were still quite stiff, and poor Nunes in the Paraguayan midfield was on the receiving end of a couple of those. On 32 minutes, it had been Redín harrowing him down midway inside the visitors’ half, and while Nunes had got himself up again quickly, it only took another six minutes for Gómez to clatter into him, also around the same area. This time, Nunes stayed down, clearly in agony, though the referee, who’d booked the midfield man earlier in the game, refused the Paraguayan physio to look after the injured player. Clearly, señor Cardellino didn’t think Nunes was severely injured.
Granted, Nunes would carry on, but only after some time on the ground, and seemingly in pain.
Approaching half-time, the game has gone off the boil a little; the pace is certainly at its lowest yet. There is some fouling going on, and again Gómez is the culprit, as he scythes Romero down, yet again halfway inside the visitors’ half. With just over a minute left for play, Zabala goes to hit it long towards the hosts’ penalty area, just like it had happened earlier in the half, when Ferreira had miscontrolled. This time, though, Neffa went to attack it in the air, challenged by Perea. Neither got to it, and the ball went all the way through to Mendoza, as he had evaded the attention of Pérez, who had not learnt his lesson from last time this move had been put into effect by the visitors. The Colombian right-back allowed Mendoza time and space to hit a half volley left-footed from near the corner of the six yard box, and it whistled right into the opposite corner in a terrific diagonal strike. Higuita stood no chance. Paraguay were in front. Only silence was heard.
The goal had come right on the stroke of half-time, and the referee even signalled an end to proceedings four seconds before the completed 45 minutes. Paraguay had gone in front, and were looking to inflict a smash and grab on the fancied visitors, who must go back to the drawing board at the interval. Unless Colombia could raise their game significantly, their hopes of reaching the World Cup would be over shortly. The Paraguayans could perhaps start to set their sight on a double-header against Israel in the intercontinental play-off final.
Desperate needs call for desperate measures. With the two teams back on to the pitch and ready to commence the final 45 minutes, one straight away noticed how there had been made not just one, but two substitutions in the Colombian team. With a total of just two substitutes available for use, it meant that Maturana had decided that ‘all or nothing’ was the best approach. After that first half, in which his team had probably been on top, but failed to severely threaten Paraguay’s goal, it could be understood. There really was not a whole lot they could lose, whereas so much was on offer for the winners.
The Paraguayans must’ve felt they’d won the lottery with that late first half goal from Mendoza. Without too much difficulty, they had managed to fend off the threat from the Colombians, and they had strung together a couple of moves of their own to show that there was enough in their locker to threaten the home side. That goal, by the way, had seemed rehearsed. There can be nothing sweeter for a manager than when what you preach on the training field comes to fruition on matchday.
So, with Albeiro Usuriaga and Luis Fajardo on for the hosts, two players would necessarily have to leave the field. Judging by his first half performance, which had been well below par from a player of his stature, Carlos Valderrama could have few objections at having been left behind in the dressing room. The same could possibly be said for Gabriel Gómez, who had made a run into the heart of the visiting defence, but other than that done little other than conceding some free-kicks and poking the ball onwards to players of a higher rank.
How would the Colombians portray themselves after these two immediate substitutions? Time to let the second half unfold. Kick-off was up to Neffa and Mendoza to deal with.
The start to the second half is action-filled. The home side throw everything they’ve got at the visiting defence, immediately seeking that equalizer which will restore their faith that they can go on and win. As one had thought once it became clear which players had left and which had entered, Colombia started the final 45 minutes push in a 4-3-3 formation. They had even switched to 4-3-3 during the loss in Asunción, though it had happened with just over 20 minutes left for play. Now, Usuriaga was back as the wide right option, and with his long limbs, he was again looking to entertain the seasoned Torales, from whom he had not got much luck in Paraguay.
With Valderrama replaced, there had been a necessary change in captaincy, too, and Iguarán had been chosen to lead the troops from the front. Easily the oldest player in the squad, and the only one to have surpassed the 30 years milestone, he could never be faulted for effort, and now he was working through the centre again where he seemed to thrive, and with crosses possibly arriving from both flanks. The three man midfield now consisted of Álvarez as the deep man, and with Redín and the recently arrived Fajardo in the two attacking roles. They were a unit bent on attacking.
Within two minutes of the restart, Fajardo, who had showed two weeks earlier in Ecuador what an asset he could be, arrived at a massive chance to level the scores. A deep Hernández cross from the left was only headed up and under by Delgado, who was off balance and fell after connecting with the ball, rendering him unable to try and get a block in as the ball fell invitingly to the arriving Fajardo 13 yards out. He swung his right boot at it up in the air, but didn’t strike it cleanly, and it went into the ground and over the bar, with Fernández already committed.
Fajardo, a key member of the recently crowned continental club champions Atlético Nacional, had looked to add a whole new dimension to the team, as he sought possession constantly, and played some neat passes in the forward direction, often from the outside of his right boot. His predecessor, Valderrama, had had an off-day for whatever reason, but this start to the second half gave the hosts renewed optimism. Redín had had a shot, wayward, admittedly, on two and a half minutes, and Fajardo another attempt six minutes into the period, but via Guasch and out for a left wing corner. Then Hernández attempts to get to the byline, only to be prevented by Cáceres who hands the home side another left wing corner, from which the wide left forward’s flag kick slips through Fernández’ hands and arrives at Usuriaga’s feet towards the back of the area. Despite sidestepping Delgado, he can’t keep his left-footed effort down. Oh, the action!
Visitors find opportunities on the counter
The Paraguayans? Well, nothing new tactically for the start of the second half. They remained in their 4-3-3, and they’d had the first pop goalwards only 22 seconds after the restart, when Ferreira’s effort from 28 yards had drifted well wide to the right of Higuita’s upright. They had needed to adapt even mentally, as that late first half goal had given them an even stronger advantage to that one which they’d begun the game with. Could they inadvertently become too defensive in their mindset, thinking that they’d already done the majority of the job?
With Colombia so committed to attacking, there are opportunities on the counter for the visitors, and to a larger extent than during the first half. There’s a booted clearance after a right wing Colombia corner which finds its way to Higuita, who’s acting as a sweeper 20 yards away from the halfway line. Not foreign to playing with a high level of risk, he takes the ball down, but is ferociously tackled by Mendoza, who had seemed to get both ball and man simultaneously. Whether or not Higuita actually felt a great amount of pain from the tackle, or if it was a play-act to get the referee on his side, is hard to say, but nevertheless he was awarded the free-kick, as the visiting wide left forward could’ve run through on an empty net.
52 minutes: Quick transition from the visitors again, as Neffa brings the ball forward, being accompanied by both his fellow attackers, and even the supporting Zabala, who comes sprinting along the right hand side. It is the libero whom Neffa feeds, as the young striking sensation goes to take up his place in the centre. Zabala returns him the ball, and Neffa for a second looks to be through and odds on to score, but for a last-ditch intervention by the recovering Escobar, who rescues the Colombians. It had been mighty close, but this could well be what the hosts had in store as they were pushing hard for goal(s).
Back to square one!
Within eleven minutes of the restart, the Colombian hosts have levelled the score. It is not as if the visitors hadn’t been warned. The home side had come out of the starting blocks at a whirlwind’s pace, and their enterprising tactics and play had been justly rewarded. Fajardo, who had already introduced himself, continued his high level of visibility in that attacking midfield role, combining very well with Redín, whom he had set up for a shooting opportunity on 54 minutes, straight at Fernández from 22 yards. Less than two minutes on, the pair combined inside the final third of the pitch, for Fajardo to release Hernández to the left. The tricky forward had plenty of space for picking his cross, as Cáceres had drifted too far towards the centre. Hernández proceeded to pick out his team mate at club level with an exquisite cross that eluded both Delgado and Fernández, and from close range, Iguarán simply couldn’t miss with his header. All square!
In the wake of the goal
The hosts continued to attack with verve and precision, and they were continually overloading the visitors, who were certainly feeling the heat by now. Usuriaga and Hernández were joined by full-backs Pérez and Villa along the flanks, and even Escobar was seen transporting the ball well into the opposition’s half with conviction. Álvarez as the holding midfielder wasn’t much in demand, at least not so far in the half, as the delightfully expressive Fajardo continued to run the show with his skill, vision, drive and desire. The substitute was almost walking on water; such was his dominance. He ran past opponents with great ease, and his low, forward passes would always set a team mate up in a good position. Both Usuriaga and Hernández benefitted from his playfulness.
It becomes increasingly clear how Ré must act: Paraguay are struggling to keep their heads above the water, and their midfield is non-existing so far in this second half. They are simply being steamrollered by Fajardo and Redín, and while Guasch and Nunes had enjoyed a relatively comfortable opening 45 minutes, they just could not get anywhere near the hosts in the opening quarter of an hour in the second half. Ré’s decision is to withdraw Nunes, who had gone down twice after heavy challenges in the first period, and who could well be playing with a minor injury. On comes centre-back Luis Caballero for his first action of the ongoing qualification.
In withdrawing a midfielder for a centre-back, Ré looked like he had completely surrendered the hope of regaining a foothold in the battle for midfield. The visitors were so far after the break rarely allowed even a breather, and now Paraguay were operating with five across the back, with Romero tucking inside to aid Guasch in the engine room. Not that it helped or mattered; they continued to be easy fodder for determined hosts.
Relentless hosts set their sights on another
Fajardo could simply do nothing wrong. He released Usuriaga inside the area with another wonderfully weighted pass, and the wide forward’s cut-back reached centre-back Perea, who had joined in on the action. The latter tried to side-foot the ball into the back of the net, but was thwarted by Fernández’ close range save, with the ball eventually rebounding to safety as far as the exhausted visitors were concerned.
Two minutes later, as the second half was approaching its halfway stage, Colombia would get that all important second goal. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when we reveal how Luis Fajardo was once again in the thick of the action, once more releasing Usuriaga along the right inside the area. As the winger played a low ball into the centre, Fajardo looked to capitalize, but he went down under the challenge from Caballero, looking for a possible penalty. As it were, play was allowed to continue, and the ball reached Hernández following a dreadful attempt at a clearance by Delgado, and he deftly side-stepped Cáceres, before picking the top right corner of Fernández’ goal with the inside of his weaker right foot. It was a peach of a goal, and Colombia’s first of these eliminatorias which didn’t have Iguarán’s signature.
A minute or so prior to Hernández’ strike, Wilson Pérez had become the second player of the afternoon to be booked, as he’d galloped all the way across to the left hand side to deny Mendoza, who also had momentarily switched sides, the chance to start a counter for the visitors. Pérez’ tackle on the Paraguayan goalscorer had been a ferocious one, and after a couple of heavy challenges even in the first half, where his studs-first attack on Palacios had necessitated an early substitution for the team in red and white stripes, it was a well-merited yellow card, his first of the qualification.
Can visitors give a reply?
Ré promptly responds by moving captain Delgado into midfield from his centre-back position. Following the introduction of substitute Caballero, Paraguay had played with five across the back, although it had not done much to lessen the burden of their situation. It had been in midfield where they had lost the battle. Delgado was thrust into an inside right role, with Guasch in the deep, and Romero across from him. It didn’t have an immediate effect, as Colombia were playing with their tails up, and the highly expressive Fajardo again struck a precise through-ball for Iguarán to run on to, only for ‘keeper Fernández to again swiftly move off his line to thwart the striker’s effort. Near 3-1 on 69 minutes.
While there had been no effect straight away from Ré’s decision to move Delgado into midfield, you do feel that the Paraguayans gradually manage to lift their team collectively somewhat higher up in the pitch. These dynamics of football games often come about as a natural consequence of the psychological warfare, too, as Colombia now have something to hold on to. Defeat might not be entirely damaging to Paraguay, who can straighten things out when they travel to Ecuador next week, though a draw here would make their life a whole lot easier, as it would mean they were already group winners before that journey to Guayaquil.
Plenty had always been expected from their midfield star Romero. He’d failed to live up to expectations on a personal level in their opening two matches, and though he’d probably had an improved performance here, he still hadn’t come anywhere near a dominating showing from his ‘free’ role ahead of Guasch and Nunes to begin with. He was often surrounded by two opponents, and Álvarez, typically, was rarely far away. The visitors could need Romero to step up now they were looking for a way back.
Hosts pose greater threat still
As far as dominating midfield performances go, Colombia’s half-time substitute Fajardo had given one. You do hear the term ‘unplayable’ from time to time, but the Atlético Nacional star really had been. He had given a display of strength, playfulness, terrific distribution and charge in the forward direction. His number of key passes since being introduced for the start of the second half was impressive. And through that latest pass for Iguarán, he’d proved that he was not yet done.
The name of Fajardo has been mentioned a whole lot during this second half, and rightly so, but credit should also go to his fellow substitute Usuriaga. The wide right forward had been the Colombians’ other introduction for the start of the final 45 minutes, and he’d run himself into countless positions along his flank, so often found by Fajardo. It had happened again on 76 minutes, when the long-limbed Usuriaga had managed to squeeze himself in front of Torales in order to deliever another low cross. Arriving at Usuriaga’s cut-back was Hernández, though trying to connect with his right foot, he could only see the ball skid off his boot and run harmlessly across the goalline. A natural right-footer might have done better.
For the visitors’ increased level of possession, they’re still potentially risking being exposed defensively. Substitute Caballero hasn’t looked too comfortable, and is typically trying to play it safe, often booting it away first time. Delgado has brought added midfield presence, and he’d done well to win a corner off Perea with a quarter of an hour left for play. A few minutes later, the visitors had managed to squeeze through their first effort on target, though Romero’s shot from 24 yards had lacked power, and not worried the focused Higuita at all. It had been rare, though, to see the Paraguayan number 8 receive the ball from Mendoza’s throw without being immediately put under pressure.
Is the game petering out?
There never seems to be a Paraguayan rescue-act in the making, and with the clock nearing 85 minutes, the Colombian defence has not been put under sustained pressure. What meagre efforts have come from the visitors in the forward direction, have easily been repelled, and it is almost as if one can question the away players’ desire and belief: Do they even think they can obtain that massive point following the second half barrage which they’d been put under for 25-30 minutes?
One could see the inbuilt frustration in Neffa, as he had let himself become agitated by some Higuita showboating just outside his own penalty area to win time. Once the goalkeeper had retreated back inside his area and picked the ball up, the 17 year old had slid into him. Higuita sure had done the most of the situation as he went down, claiming Neffa had struck him.
Through to full time
In the final five minutes, the hosts expertly manage to play for time, and they’d spent more than a minute watching Iguarán recover following a hefty challenge from Cáceres, as the Paraguayan right-back had tucked inside when the striker had tried to run on to a huge, booted clearance from Usuriaga. Using his experience, the second half captain remained on the ground longer than what was surely necessary, with Escobar given the chance to strike at goal from the resulting free-kick. The big central defender drew a save from Fernández as the libero attempted to pin the ball towards the top left corner of goal with his delicate left foot. Fajardo again excelled from Redín’s short corner, as he skipped Romero’s challenge and burst into the area from the left, only to seek Hernández on the edge of the area out. The forward’s attempt with his right foot (again!) was high.
Referee Cardellino blew his whistle with no additional time. Right on cue, he brought an end to proceedings, and there could be few complaints from the visitors, who had failed to show up for the final 45 minutes. A huge two points for the Colombians, whose hope of qualifying for Italia ’90 remains, even though they need help from neighbouring Ecuador a week on from now.
In the end, Colombia were well worthy their two points, even if they had not quite given a first half display that had put Paraguay under long, sustained pressure. The hosts had probably just shaded first half possession, but working out scoring opportunities had been difficult. Their somewhat tweaked midfield had probably not had the wanted effect, and instead they’d seen how Mendoza had struck with a spectacular shot on the half volley right before half-time. That double-header against Israel must have felt distant during the interval.
Maturana had decided to play his cards already during the break, and with the disappointing Valderrama one of two players to be substituted, they were a revigorated team in a 4-3-3 formation for the final 45 minutes. The pair who had come on, Fajardo and Usuriaga, were both outstanding, and the hosts were level ten minutes after the break when another very lively performer, Hernández, assisted Iguarán for the Millonarios striker’s fourth goal of the qualification. A further ten minutes later, the crowd could celebrate the turn-around as Hernández delightfully picked his spot with a calculated right-footed effort.
Paraguay were a disappointment. They had failed to build on their two home wins, even if they had rarely been too much tested during a first half in which they’d sat deep, looking to hit the hosts on the counter. It could well be that influental midfielder Nunes’ first half knock played a major role in their failure, as they were completely overrun for long spells in the second half. They could have few objections to the final score. They were now depending on a performance and a result in Ecuador the following week.
1 Higuita 7.1
alert and sound to the aerial balls which came his way: both claimed and punched. Continued his risky outfield play, and nearly got caught out second half. No chance for the goal
2 Escobar 7.3
the Colombian libero again appeared with maturity beyond his years; remained composed throughout. So strong in challenges along the ground and in the air alike, and his diagonal passes out to the right hand side were again precise
4 Wilson Pérez 7.0
an aggressive and attacking performance from the resilient full-back, who lent forward support well. Corner-taker from the right. Defensively twice on the wrong side of his man, which was made count for the goal against
5 Villa 7.1
like he’d shown in their previous home qualifier, Villa proved himself as an attacking full-back, although with an outright wide player ahead of him, crossing opportunities this time were at a minimum. Defensively kept Ferreira in check
8 Gómez 6.8
working in a somewhat more advanced midfield position this time around, it would seem he struggled to find his positioning. Committed, and had a few forward runs, but had seemed more comfortable in a holding role. Off at half time
(17 Fajardo 8.6
my word! That was some performance. He injected pace, creativity, energy and combinations in a hefty package, and his on-the-ball runs were numerous. Split the defence with several passes which matched his vision, and played a big role in both goals. World class!)
10 Redín 7.4
much more in the thick of the action than Valderrama first half, but really came to the fore after the break, even if he couldn’t quite match his new attacking midfield companion. Put a few shots in, and gave further evidence of his ‘bulldozing’ runs
11 Hernández 8.1
a very lively performance, and like several team mates, he peaked after the break. Both assisted and scored, and had a total of three attempts from his weaker right foot. His low centre of gravity and sheer pace and trickery saw him reach the byline a few times. Rarely stopped running
12 Valderrama 6.1
a bloodless performance in which he almost hid from the action. Had a through-ball for Hernández, but otherwise very anonymous. Ill? Off at half time
(7 Usuriaga 7.9
brought on to keep width along the right, and proved his worth in how he turned his full-back inside-out a number of times, and worked himself into several crossing positions. Big contributing factor for 2-1. Direct and physical; too much for Torales)
14 Álvarez 7.1
dutifully went about his work as the holding midfielder, and few in the South American branch do it better than him. Perhaps surprised to see Romero work towards the left, something which meant they didn’t clash so often. Left creativity for others to deal with
15 Perea 7.1
some big challenges along the ground, but failed to win in the air when it mattered, as Zabala’s long ball up evaded both him and Neffa. More freedom of expression in the second half, when he arrived to play a bit inside the opposition’s half, and came close to scoring from an Usuriaga cut-back
16 Iguarán 7.3
struck yet again, and the headed equalizer was his fourth of the campaign. Gave proof of his blistering acceleration, though he wasn’t the main menace among the Colombian attackers this time other than the goal
1 Fernández 7.2
very quickly off his line on two occasions to foil opposition players, and with his big range he gave a confident impression on his line. Not 100 % reliable when coming for aerial balls, and could perhaps have been a bigger presence for the equalizer?
2 Cáceres 6.4
was constantly reminded of Hernández’ threat, and couldn’t quite cope with the unpredictable forward. Passing at times left him down, but he was good at tucking in when it was needed
3 Zabala 7.0
again proved his worth in the air, as Iguarán was potentially a big such threat. Good positioning, and along with Delgado repelled a number of crosses. Even joined in coming forward a couple of times with decent effect. His long free-kick up from the back assisted for the goal
4 Torales 6.3
another conservative display, though while he’d not been truly tested defensively first half, he would fail to live with Usuriaga after the break. Conceded too much from his flank
5 Delgado 6.9
so good at interceptions, and made several clearances from crosses into the centre. Still, had a couple of iffy moments, and how he wildly tried to boot the ball clear just before Hernández’ goal was a disappointment. Moved into midfield, and it seemed to have some effect on his team’s performance
6 Guasch 6.9
would often come up against Valderrama first half, and it was a battle which Guasch came out of favourably. Second half he was part of a collective which struggled big time for 25 minutes at least, though acquitted himself better once Delgado was moved into midfield, through simple and efficient passing
7 Palacios 6.2
not in the game much, and got brutally tackled by Pérez, upon which he picked up the injury which eventually forced him off. Strangely enough, he’d looked more inspired just prior to coming off, as he won in the air and also participated along the ground
(15 Neffa 6.4
enjoyed little luck this time around against the two big centre-backs, although he put in plenty of endeavour as usual. So nearly set himself up for a massive early second half chance)
8 Romero 7.1
the little playmaker probably gave his best performance of the qualification. Used the ball well, even if he wasn’t involved to the extent which he might have wanted. Found some useful pockets of space and combined with Mendoza, but didn’t threaten on goal
9 B Ferreira 6.2
with his pace along the right, he could potentially have made a difference on the counter, but remained largely anonymous. Didn’t transport particularly well, and failed to co-work with the other forwards
10 Nunes 6.6
less authoritative than previously in the qualification, something could partly have been due to him being tackled to the ground in the first half. Sat deep, but left little print on proceedings, and was replaced a few minutes after the equalizer
(13 Caballero 6.5
came on to add a man in the heart of the defence. Kept things basic. Rarely drawn out of position, but didn’t look too confident when coming on in a team which was struggling to get a foothold. Could well have been awarded a penalty against in the moment before 2-1)
11 Mendoza 7.0
his flare didn’t always show, but he definitely proved his worth when he put Paraguay in front with a super strike. At times combined well with Romero, and would also come across to the right hand side a few times. Found Pérez in combative mood