Colombia were coming into the 1990 World Cup qualification as an emerging force to be reckoned with in South America. Having performed modestly in most recent qualifications and never really come close to qualifying, there were clear signs over the last couple of years indicating that this team had improved vastly and become a real contender for a place in the World Cup. The man rightly credited for this turn of fortune, was manager Francisco “Paco” Maturana (1987– ). A dentist by profession, Maturana had brought new ideas to the national team and in a short time managed to develop a new, distinct style for La Tricolor. His philosophy was that of a possession-based game, focusing on short passing and keeping the ball within the team, that evidently suited well to Colombia’s current crop of players and enchanted the home audiences. Read more…

World Cup appearances: 1962

Manager: Francisco Maturana


Qualifier 1
Estadio Metropolitano, Barranquilla

Iguarán (32′, 73′)



A winning start to the qualification was all that mattered to Maturana’s Colombia, and they got their win in quite comfortable fashion, as they were rarely threatened defensively. Right-back Pérez assisted 32 year old striker Iguarán for both goals, both brilliantly executed headers, and substitute Fajardo rammed the bar late on with another header. The Colombians had a stronger core than their opponents, with Perea/Escobar in control at the back, Ricardo Pérez bossing the midfield, Redín providing plenty of power in the transitions, and Iguarán with his two classy strikes. The full-backs were also highly active, and not least important elements in their narrow 4-2-2-2. 

Line-up (4-2-2-2): Higuita – Wilson Pérez, Perea, Escobar, Villa – Álvarez, Ricardo Pérez – Redín, Valderrama (c) – Usuriaga (Hernández 69), Iguarán (Fajardo 81).

Qualifier 2
Estadio Defensores del Chaco, Asunción

Ferreira (59′)
Chilavert (90+6′ pen.)


Iguarán (86′)

Following their polished performance the previous week, Colombia were looking to take a point back from Asunción. There had been two changes to the side, with Villa and Usuriaga dropping out. Their replacements hardly excelled. Colombia found it difficult to get going on a bumpy pitch against aggressive opponents. With more defensive tactics than last time out, they were camped inside their own half for spells, and very rarely threatened the opposition’s goal. They lost Álvarez to a red card, and already a goal down, they struggled to make inroads. An equalizer out of nowhere through Iguarán still counted for little, as Higuita conceded an injury time penalty which was subsequently converted after a few dramatic minutes. 

Line-up (4-2-2-2): Higuita – Wilson Pérez, Perea, Escobar, Hoyos – Álvarez, Ricardo Pérez (Hernández 69) – Redín, Valderrama (c) – Galeano (Usuriaga 59), Iguarán.

Qualifier 3
Estadio Monumental, Guayaquil




Line-up (4-2-2-2): Higuita – Wilson Pérez, Perea, Escobar, Hoyos – Gabriel Gómez, Ricardo Pérez – Fajardo (Usuriaga 83), Valderrama (c) – Iguarán, Hernández (Galeano 86)
Suspension deprived Maturana of two midfield key men, as both Álvarez and Redín had to sit out. Hernández lively on his call-up to partner Iguarán as a left-sided forward, and the pair could both have got their respective signatures on the scoresheet. After a bit of a hesitant start, the game picked up, and though Colombia ultimately had the greater opportunities, they were also indebted to Higuita for thwarting the opposition. A draw probably just about the right outcome, and a vital away point claimed for the Colombians. 

Qualifier 4
Estadio Metropolitano, Barranquilla

Iguarán (56′)
Hernández (66′)


Mendoza (44′)

It was last chance saloon for Colombia, who knew that only two points was good enough if they were to still be in with a shout to reach the intercontinental play-offs. Maturana could welcome back both Álvarez and Redín, and both were restored to the team. Still, their new midfield, in which Gómez was moved slightly higher in the pitch, didn’t quite work. A goal down at the interval, the manager changed it around during the break, and they reappeared in a 4-3-3 for the start of the second half. A bleak Valderrama had been one of two players substituted, and his replacement Fajardo went on to excel. Goals from Iguarán and Hernández set them on their way, and the win was richly deserved after their half-time transition. 

Line-up (4-1-1-2-2): Higuita – Wilson Pérez, Perea, Escobar, Villa – Álvarez – Gabriel Gómez (Fajardo h-t) – Redín, Valderrama (c) (Usuriaga h-t) – Iguarán, Hernández.

Play-off, leg 1
Estadio Metropolitano, Barranquilla

Usuriaga (74′)



The management decided for an identical formation to the one which had taken to the pitch in the final group stage game against Paraguay, and while there had looked to be some early jitteries, the Colombians soon started to boss the first half. It was Fajardo, who had done so exceptionally well after coming on at half-time last time around, who begun in the role which Gómez had held then. Despite having the bulk of the possession, the hosts rarely pose questions from the strong and well-organized Israeli defence. Like against Paraguay, Maturana decided to scrap his first half formation at the break, and in introducing Usuriaga once again for the start of the final 45, they went 4-3-3. The pace to the game was not always great, and Israel defended deep and in numbers, making it difficult for Colombia to find that breakthrough. Usuriaga did well along the right, even if Iguarán was contained by Alon through the centre. Ultimately, it was the substitute who got the solitary, all-important goal, as he played a one-two with Fajardo and ran through to slot it past the ‘keeper. Is one goal sufficient, though? 

Line-up (4-1-1-2-2): Higuita – Wilson Pérez, Perea, Escobar, Villa – Álvarez – Fajardo – Redín (Usuriaga h-t), Valderrama (c) – Iguarán, Hernández.

Play-off, leg 2
Ramat Gan National Stadium, Tel Aviv




Colombia had travelled across the Atlantic Ocean and into The Middle East for their final qualifier: It was the decider away to Israel. For one reason or another, manager Maturana had to make to without one of his more trusted players: centre-back Perea. Mendoza was brought into the defence in his place, and the Colombians restored their two-man holding midfield, seeing (Ricardo) Pérez return to accompany Álvarez behind the more advanced pair of Redín and Valderrama. Their most sparkling attacking player so far in the qualification, Fajardo, had been thrust into a role just behind striker and leading scorer Iguarán. Match-winner Usuriaga from the first leg was back in his familiar role as substitute. The visitors maintained plenty of first half possession, but could not penetrate the Israeli defence, and they were indebted to Tikva for failing to hit the target from 12 yards on 19 minutes. After the break, the home side applied greater pressure, and there were opportunities for various home players. Usuriaga had again been brought on during the half-time interval, and he went on to strike the post eight minutes from time. Colombia held on, and progressed through to the World Cup. 

Line-up (4-2-2-1-1): Higuita – Wilson Pérez, Mendoza, Escobar, Hoyos – Álvarez (Gómez 70), Ricardo Pérez – Redín (Usuriaga h-t), Valderrama (c) – Fajardo – Iguarán.


From a tight group, it would eventually turn out so that Colombia came through as winners. They had looked to be in severe trouble when they had failed to get more than three points from their first three matches, while Paraguay had won both of their two (home) matches prior to the two nations’ second meeting: The 17 September meeting between the pair in Barranquilla would mean more or less everything, at least to the Colombians. 

After a mediocre Copa América campaign, the Colombians were still naturally touted as one of two favourites to win the group and progress through to the intercontinental play-off double-header against Oceania (!) winners Israel. The latter had waited for a few months already to find out whom they would play off against for the right to represent at Italia ’90. 

Despite their failure to progress beyond the first group stage at the Copa, Francisco Maturana remained faithful to a majority of the players whom he had brought to Brazil. Only five of the 20 strong party which had travelled to the continental championships would remain unselected for either of the four qualification matchday squads. 

Fine qualification campaign: 22 year young centre-half Andrés Escobar

The Colombians started in a fairly impressive manner, when they dealt with Ecuador swiftly in a 2-0 home win. 32 year old striker Arnoldo Iguarán stole the headlines with his two exceptionally well-taken headers, but there had been sound performances right through the team, and their version of the 4-4-2 formation (“4-2-2-2”) had worked a treat. They had looked solid and compact defensively against a not all too daring opponent, and looked the part attack-wise, and certainly through Iguarán. 

They next travelled to Asunción to face the other side which were seen as possible Group 2 winners: Paraguay had given a fine account of themselves in the Copa tournament, where they had advanced to the second group stage. And in a fiery encounter, a number of players were booked, in addition to Colombia’s defensive midfield man Leonel Álvarez getting himself sent off for an altercation with the strong Nunes. The visitors had been the weaker team for large portions of the game, but had nicked a late leveller through that man Iguarán. It had seemed to earn them a precious point, but in injury time colourful goalkeeper René Higuita was to blame for conceding a needless penalty, and after massive protesting from the visiting players, something which brought the riot police on to the pitch and halted proceedings for a good five minutes, Higuita let in the penalty from opposing number 1 Chilavert. 

They could restore the impression when travelling to Guayaquil to play Ecuador, but in a match where there were several opportunities both ways, most of them for the visitors, neither team managed to break the deadlock, and the 0-0 scoreline had been something of a disappointing outcome for the Colombians. Paraguay would then go on and beat Ecuador at home the following week, and so Colombia’s three points tally from three matches was far inferior to Paraguay’s haul of four points from two. 

Possible World Cup participation hinged on the visit of the Paraguayans in Barranquilla. Having missed influental players such as Álvarez and Bernardo Redín in Ecuador, both out through suspension, Maturana restored them both to the team, and he’d even break up that ‘4-2-2-2’ impression by moving one of the two holding midfielders, Gabriel Gómez, who had filled in for Álvarez last time out, into a position between the holding man (now Álvarez alone) and the two attacking midfield men.

Million Dollar smile: Arnoldo Iguarán. Here with central defender Luis Carlos Perea

They’d been slightly the better side for possession first half, but Colombia found themselves a goal down courtesy of conceding late to a wonder strike. This brought about some half-time tinkering from Maturana, who gave that 4-3-3 formation which he’d given a brief glimpse of during the loss in Asunción some further airtime: Albeiro Usuriaga came on to join Rubén Hernández and Iguarán up top. At the same time, he took off the massively disappointing Valderrama, his captain, and replaced him with Luis Fajardo, a key player at continental club champions Atlético Nacional of Medellín. Iguarán took over the captain’s role, and notched the equalizer for his fourth of the campaign. Both substitutes excelled, and both played an active role in Hernández’ goal, which turned out to be the winner. 

The result took Colombia to the top of the pool, but they knew that if Paraguay went on to win their fixture in Ecuador the subsequent Sunday, it would be they and not the Colombians who would face off against the Israelians. The wait must have been so agonising for staff, players and fans alike. However, the following weekend, Ecuador came from behind to win 3-1, and thus aid Colombia in their battle for finishing top of the pile. 

Final position: 1 (out of 3 – qualified for intercontinental play-off)
Total record: 4 2 1 1 5-3 5
Home record: 2 2 0 0 4-1 4
Away record: 2 0 1 1 1-2 1

Final phase

The Colombians only needed to wait another month to commence the intercontinental play-offs, with the home leg against Israel being played out first. Their opponents, on the other hand, had been waiting for six months to get the final ‘show’ started. This would immediately appear an advantage to the Latin Americans, though perhaps this was muted slightly by the fact that they would need to travel away for the final of the two legs. 

With no changes in their matchday squad, Colombia went about their home leg optimistically. They had looked a tad nervous initially, but once they’d gained control of those jitters, they would go on to be by far the better side. Defensively, they would not allow the visitors much, and so they did not suffer against the potential pace of the Israeli attack, where Rosenthal had looked so threatening on the break during their group stage matches. 

Matchwinner: Albeiro Usuriaga

A more attacking 4-1-1-2-2 formation saw the hosts still struggle to create chances, and Israel proved a very disciplined side with how they elected to sit back and have the hosts come at them. Goalless at the break saw Maturana once again retort to his favourite plan B: the 4-3-3 alternative. He took midfielder Redín, who had tested Ginzburg with a first half shot from distance, off, and replaced him with the lanky, pacy Usuriaga. This once again saw the Colombians with a wide player either side of Iguarán, and it would be the substitute who would get the solitary goal of the game, as he ran on to Fajardo’s delicate throughball. 

A 1-0 lead from the first leg did seem slender, but the Colombians knew that they, too, had plenty of defensive security. However, they must have been disappointed to learn that they would have to cope without influental centre-back Perea for the return-leg, and so having to pair libero Escobar with a new defender in Mendoza, who came in and performed like he’d done nothing but play alongside Escobar all his career. 

Capitalizing on what was probably a level of nervousness in the home side during the first half in Tel Aviv, the Colombians enjoyed the majority of the possession. It was a game of very few goalscoring opportunities, but that would’ve suited the South Americans very well. Seeing the return of holding midfield man (Ricardo) Pérez alongside the strong Álvarez added another dimension to their defensive security, and the playful trio of more advanced midfielders in Redín, Valderrama and Fajardo made sure to keep the hosts occupied. 

René Higuita: Key save second half from Rosenthal in Tel Aviv

Colombia did concede a greater level of possession after the break, as the hosts piled on the pressure, desperate in their search for the goal which would take the game to extra time. However, they would not come closer than Rosenthal’s early second half effort straight at Higuita from close range. Usuriaga had again come on for the final 45, and again he proved a threat, striking the post with a late effort from inside the box. 

Despite everything the hosts had thrown at them, the Colombians had stood tall, and over the two legs, they had probably just about shaded it. And so, they were through to Italia ’90, bringing some wonderful scenes of jubilation upon the full-time whistle. 

Player Statistics

Number of players used: 17
Number of players including unused substitutes: 19
Ever-presents (540 minutes): 3 (Higuita, Wilson Pérez, Escobar)
Leading goalscorer: Arnoldo Iguarán (4)
Yellow/red cards: 9/1

– overview

Wilson Pérez665401/0
Ricardo Pérez443391/0
Gómez, Gabriel3213155

– game by game

PlayerEcu (h)Par (a)Ecu (a)Par (h)Isr (h)Isr (a)AppsMins
Wilson Pérez9090909090906540
Álvarez9070 (s.o.)9090705410
Ricardo Pérez906990904339
Gómez, GabrielRR9045R202+1155

– ratings

PosPlayerAverage ratingNumber of rated games
1Luis Fajardo7,624
2Rubén Darío Hernández7,533
3Andrés Escobar7,156
4Albeiro Usuriaga7,065
5Leonel Álvarez7,045
6León Villa7,033
7Bernardo Redín7,025
Arnoldo Iguarán7,006
9Wilson Pérez6,956
10Luis Carlos Perea6,945
11René Higuita6,916
12Carlos Hoyos6,803
13Carlos Valderrama6,786
14José Ricardo Pérez6,774
Explanation to table: A player must have been given a rating for a minimum of three matches in order to qualify

Top three individual ratings
1 Fajardo 8,6 v Paraguay (h)
2 Usuriaga 7,9 v Paraguay (h)
3 Iguarán 7,7 v Ecuador (h)
Fajardo 7,7 v Israel (h)


Orange Bowl Cup
02.02.1990: Uruguay 2-0 Colombia (neutral ground in Miami, USA)

Orange Bowl Cup
04.02.1990: USA 1-1 Colombia

20.02.1990: Colombia 0-0 Soviet Union (neutral ground in Los Angeles, USA)

17.04.1990: Mexico 2-0 Colombia (neutral ground in Los Angeles, USA)

22.04.1990: USA 0-1 Colombia

04.05.1990: Colombia 2-1 Poland (neutral ground in Chicago, USA)

26.05.1990: Egypt 1-1 Colombia

02.06.1990: Hungary 3-1 Colombia

Leave a Reply