Paraguay - Colombia: Big win secured from the spot deep in injury time
Ref.: Hernán Silva
L1: Jorge Massardo
L2: Salvador Imperatore
Written by: kaltz
A month into the South American World Cup qualification, the turn had eventually come to the Paraguayan capital of Asunción to host the country’s opening qualifier. Visitors were Colombia, who the previous weekend had at times impressed onlookers during their 2-0 win against neighbouring Ecuador. They were a tested nation with plenty currently happening in the fight against the drug cartels, who had been responsible for killing, among others, President elect Luis Carlos Galán just two days prior to the Colombians’ home tie with Ecuador. Paraguay, as a country, too, had had an incident packed year so far in 1989, with the ‘highlight’ being the early February Coup d’état. Both countries would certainly welcome triumph on the football pitch in order to at least provide their people with a touch of sporting joy.
Paraguay team news
With Paraguay failing to score in either of their final four Copa América matches, the tournament looked to have been deemed a failure by their FA, and so they opted to fire Eduardo Luján Manera and reinstall former national team manager Cayetano Ré. The latter’s appointment had happened only days prior to their opening qualifier; it was hardly ideal. Still, considering his two years stint which had culminated in 1986 World Cup participation, one could claim that few knew better than the 51 year old what was demanded in this position. His most recent managerial task had been in Spain with Real Betis, though he’d been relieved of his duties in the penultimate month of the 1988/89 season, with the club ultimately suffering relegation from the top flight.
Manera had brought along a 21 man strong squad to Brazil for the continental championships. With today’s matchday squad counting 16 members, it had meant that at least five players needed to be axed from the recently held Copa. In comparing the tournament squad with today’s matchday squad, one realizes that only 11 of the travelling contingent the previous month were still present. This meant that no less than ten players had been culled. Judging by some of the performers who had arrived to the squad, Paraguay were in fact looking stronger for this match than they had at the Copa.
The five players who were brought in who had not participated in Brazil were: 24 year old goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert (a possible debutant), midfielders Jorge Nunes, Javier Ferreira and former South American ‘Player of the Year’ Julio César Romero (dubbed ‘Romerito’), as well as forward Ramón Hicks. The most notable absentee appeared to be experienced central midfielder Adolfino Cañete. The 32 year old of Argentinian club Córdoba had played every minute of each of their four matches in the 1986 World Cup. He had also been a regular starter in the Copa América, only missing from their final first group stage game, where there had been wholesale changes due to the fact that they were already through, as well as their final second stage group game, the 0-0 draw with Argentina.
17 year old striking sensation Gustavo Neffa of Asunción club Olimpia had netted twice in Brazil, something which also went for Cañete and forwards Buenaventura Ferreira and Alfredo Mendoza. He was of an impressive frame for such a young man, Neffa. With 1986 World Cup striker Roberto Cabañas having featured in his French club side Brest’s 1-0 home loss against Paris Saint-Germain yesterday, the teenager was definitely in contention for a starting berth again.
As for Olimpia, they had only two players in the squad, a fact which was perhaps a little odd considering that they had reached the Copa Libertadores final back in May. There they had lost on penalty shoot-out against their Colombian opponents Nacional of Medellín, who had no less than seven players in their squad of 16. Olimpia’s other participant in addition to Neffa was holding midfielder Jorge Guasch, who had also been a part of their 1986 squad in Mexico.
Paraguay had been spotted in a 3-4-3 formation during the 1986 World Cup, and with Ré back in charge, would he line his charges up thus once again?
Colombia team news
It had only been a week since Colombia had got their World Cup qualification campaign up and running through that convincing 2-0 home win against neighbours Ecuador. The nucleus of the squad had been made up of Atlético Nacional players, and there had seemed to be little reason for manager Francesco Maturana, who was indeed also the Medellín club’s head coach, to alter much ahead of the trip to Asunción.
There had in fact been two changes from the party of 16 which had faced Ecuador. Starting left-back León Villa and forward substitute Luis Fajardo, who had smacked a headed effort off the crossbar after coming on back then, were both out, and into the squad had come full-back deputee Carlos Hoyos and striker Juan Jairo Galeano, of Atlético Junior (Barranquilla) and Atlético Nacional respectively. With both the players who had dropped out of the squad since last week were from the country’s leading team, the total number of players from the Medellín club was now seven, one down from last time around.
Maturana had lined his selection last week up in a 4-4-2, where they’d operated with Andrés Escobar as libero just behind towering centre-back Luis Carlos Perea, and where they’d had two holding midfielders behind playmakers Redín and Valderrama. For a tough-looking away trip, were they going to deploy the same tactics as last time around, or would their midfield assume more conventional proportions on this occasion? They had bossed the majority of the game against Ecuador, though an away tie was obviously going to be a different proposition. A slightly tweaked approach was hardly unthinkable.
40 year old Chilean Hernán Silva Arce had been placed in charge of the fixture. Despite his relatively young age, he was with a wealth of international experience, and he had run the rule over Peru’s 1-0 home win against Argentina in the previous World Cup qualification. It should indeed be noted that he had been selected for the 1986 World Cup itself, where his sole task had been the group stage game between France and Canada (1-0). Other than that, he had refereed twice in qualification for the 1988 Olympic tournament, with both assignments taking place away from his own continent: Australia v New Zealand and the intercontinental affair between Australia and Israel. In the Seoul tournament proper, he’d officiated in the group stage game between Italy and Iraq (2-0).
In the recently held Copa América, Silva had distinguished himself in being tasked with the final match of the second group phase, the game which would decide who would ultimately win the tournament: Brazil v Uruguay (1-0). He had also overseen the Brazilian hosts’ group stage game against Peru (0-0).
Add to these call-ups a vast range of continental club matches, and one realized that the tie was in the safest pair of hands. His two stand-out matches at club level had come in the Copa Libertadores, where the Chilean official had been placed in charge of finals in both 1987 (Peñarol v América de Cali) and 1988 (Newell’s Old Boys v Nacional).
The two countries had 21 previous meetings, with the most recent taking place in Copa América, where Paraguay had defeated Colombia by a goal to nil (scored by Mendoza) in the first group stage.
The total record read 11-2-8 in favour of today’s hosts, though it should be noted that the Colombians had been on a 6-1-1 run prior to the recent Copa América clash, with the 80s internally belonging to today’s visitors.
This was the fifth time that the two countries had been paired in World Cup qualification. It had first happened before the 1958 tournament in Sweden, and then, too, ahead of Mexico ’70, Argentina ’78 and indeed again ahead of Mexico ’86. Statistics read 6-1-1 in favour of Paraguay in World Cup qualification encounters. Colombia’s solitary win had been their 2-1 triumph in Cali in November ’85, their last such head to head. While only Carlos Valderrama remained from the Colombian team back then, no less than ten (!) of the 13 who had been in action for Paraguay were in the current squad.
Estadio Defensores del Chaco is situated to the west in Paraguay’s capital Asunción. The current capacity was said to be around 60,000. The stadium’s mainly used for internationals, though with Asunción hosting a number of the country’s leading clubs, such as Olimpia, Cerro Porteño, Nacional and Guaraní, there’s also continental club matches taking place when needs be.
|1 José Luis Chilavert||24||Real Zaragoza|
|2 Virginio Cáceres||27||Guaraní|
|3 César Zabala|| 53′||28||Cerro Porteño|
|4 Juan Torales||33||Libertad|
|5 Rogelio Delgado (c)|| 13′||29||Independiente (Arg.)|
|6 Jorge Guasch||28||Olimpia|
|7 Ramón Hicks||sub 74′||30||Oviedo|
|8 Julio César Romero||sub 51′||28||Puebla|
|9 Gustavo Neffa||17||Olimpia|
|10 Jorge Amado Nunes||27||Deportivo Cali|
|11 Alfredo Mendoza||25||Stade Brest|
|12 Roberto Fernández||35||Cerro Porteño|
|13 Luis Caballero||26||Guaraní|
|14 Buenaventura Ferreira||on 74′||29||Guaraní|
|15 Javier Ferreira||on 51′||20||Libertad|
|16 Eumelio Palacios||24||Libertad|
|1 René Higuita||23||Atlético Nacional|
|2 Andrés Escobar||22||Atlético Nacional|
|4 Wilson Pérez||22||Atlético Junior|
|5 Carlos Hoyos||27||Atlético Junior|
|6 José Ricardo Pérez||9′, sub 69′||25||Atlético Nacional|
|9 Juan Jairo Galeano||56′, sub 59′||27||Atlético Nacional|
|10 Bernardo Redín||74′||26||Deportivo Cali|
|12 Carlos Valderrama (c)||27||Montpellier|
|14 Leonel Álvarez||70′||24||Atlético Nacional|
|15 Luis Carlos Perea||68′||25||Atlético Nacional|
|16 Arnaldo Iguarán||32||Millonarios|
|3 Alexis Mendoza||27||Atlético Junior|
|7 Albeiro Usuriaga||on 59′||23||Atlético Nacional|
|8 Gabriel Gómez||29||Independiente Medellín|
|11 Rubén Darío Hernández||on 69′||24||Millonarios|
|19 Eduardo Niño||22||Independiente Santa Fe|
The two teams take to the pitch accompanied by a big wall of noise generated by the 50 000 or so present inside the Defensores del Chaco stadium. Both the far side and the two curves appear to be packed, so it is a sell-out crowd for Paraguay’s opening qualifier. They were arguably up against a very capable opponent, albeit one which they’d overcome less than two months earlier in the Copa América.
There is indeed a debut for Real Zaragoza custodian José Luis Chilavert between the home side’s sticks, with former first pick Roberto Fernández relegated to the substitutes’ bench. There are also welcome returns to the team for midfielders Julio César Romero and Jorge Nunes, and even for forward Ramón Hicks. Thus, Paraguay, in Cayetano Ré’s first game back as national team manager, would appear to line up once more with three forwards.
As for the visitors, they had made two changes to the starting line-up which had defeated Ecuador the previous Sunday. One of those had been expected, as left-back Villa was not present, and Carlos Hoyos had stepped into his shoes. The other new inclusion was Atlético Nacional striker Juan Jairo Galeano, coming into the team for Albeiro Usuriaga, his team mate at club level. The latter had played as a right-sided forward last weekend. Would Galeano do likewise?
Kicking the game into action, from right to left as we’re watching, were the away side through new striker Galeano and midfield playmaker Carlos Valderrama.
Play gets halted
Even prior to the game commencing, there’s been evidence of a dog roaming around the pitch. This has not been addressed, and so the game gets under way with the animal still on. Just shy of two minutes in, the visitors are awarded a free-kick halfway inside the Paraguayans’ half as home captain Rogelio Delgado, the fully-bearded defenceman, tackles Galeano to the ground rather unceremoniously, true to character. He’s a hard customer, is the hosts’ skipper. Finally, the referee sees the need to have the dog ushered off the pitch, though it’ll take some quite enterprising action from some players to try and make the sizeable creature disappear. One Paraguayan decides to hurl the ball at the poor thing, not just once but twice, while René Higuita looks rather uninterested. One may wonder why no guard comes on to try and assist; the players are left to deal with the animal themselves. Eventually, two minutes after the referee had stopped the proceedings, it decides to step off behind Chilavert’s goal, where there’s a gate in the fence leading towards a tunnel. Delgado is the final player to have a say, as he’s making himself as big as he can, leaving the stray animal with little option. Play can recommence.
Before the game has really fallen into any sort of pattern, though perhaps is it fair to say that the visitors look the more comfortable early on, we see another Delgado assault taking place. The Paraguayan centre-back finds himself in Colombia’s right-handed attacking channel, where Delgado comes into contact with striker Arnoldo Iguarán, who tries to make headway down the right. However, he’s rather cynically cut short in his track by a raised arm into his neck, which sees Iguarán take a big tumble and go to the ground. The booking is warranted, especially bearing in mind that Delgado had already chopped Galeano down earlier.
Close studies of the game have also revealed that there’s been a skip in the time frame. There’s no appearance of any on-screen clocks to let us know whereabouts we are, though a couple of statistical reports from this tie are indicating that there’s already been issued a booking prior to that for the home captain: Colombia’s holding midfielder, well, one of two holding midfielders, Ricardo Pérez, appears to have seen yellow. There’s no video evidence of this taking place, but it is suspected that it has happened during the slight forward jump in time.
With the game surpassing the quarter of an hour mark, it has still not quite settled, with plenty of free-kicks making it a stop-start affair so far. Paraguay’s debutant goalkeeper Chilavert has yet to be tested, though he had been forced into making a straightforward save from Iguarán’s low left-footed effort from an angle inside the area. Down the other end, there’s a fine opportunity for young home striker Gustavo Neffa, the 17 year old, who gets his head to Jorge Nunes’ inswung free-kick from a deep left-sided position. Romero had headed it onwards and into Neffa’s path, though ten yards out, the Olimpia boy failed to direct it far enough towards the corner, and had to see Higuita throw himself to his right to make a strong one-handed stop. The ‘keeper then dived onto his own rebound before the sniffing Hicks could get to the ball.
We’re around the halfway stage in the first half when both teams conjure up further moments. Firstly, it is Colombia who try their luck from distance through Leonel Álvarez, the combative defensive midfielder, who sidesteps Paraguay’s Jorge Guasch and lets fly low with his right boot from all of 30 yards. The effort goes just past Chilavert’s upright, though it didn’t miss the frame by much. The ‘keeper had looked a little sluggish in getting down to his left, or was he all the time in control, realizing that the ball would go wide? Again, down the other end, a short Nunes free-kick out along the left hand side is played into the path of Alfredo Mendoza, and he takes it past an attempted tackle from Álvarez before he crosses into the area with his right foot. The ball’s intelligently played in between Andrés Escobar and Carlos Hoyos, and Julio César Romero has run himself free from his original position to the right in the Paraguayan midfield. It had been a stealthy move, one which the visiting defenders had failed to spot, though he gets the angle a little wrong, arriving with his head to the ball nine yards out, disappointingly directing it well wide of the target.
A look through the hosts
Paraguay were making their first appearance in these World Cup qualifiers, and they were up against a very strong opponent in Colombia, one which had given a fine display and won comfortably against Ecuador just seven days earlier. In reappointing their former national team manager just days prior to kick-off, they’d taken a big gamble, especially after they’d shown some initial promise during the Copa América, where they’d won their first three matches and scored nine goals. That they’d failed to follow up on this early tournament promise could well have been a result of them fielding a team of mainly second strings for the final group stage game against hosts Brazil, with both teams already through, disrupting the rhythm and momentum which they’d built.
Replacing long-serving goalkeeper Fernández with Spain based debutant José Luis Chilavert, a strong character aged 24, had perhaps been a display of intent from the reappointed boss. It was not as if Chilavert was untried; he had after all kept goal for Zaragoza in 37 out of 38 topflight matches in the 1988/89 Spanish league season. Though playing for his country at full international level was something new. Still, there had been no early displays of nerves. Chilavert, even if he had yet to be truly tested, appeared to stand his ground well.
Cayetano Ré had been seen sporting a three man defensive line during the 1986 World Cup, though here in his comeback, he had lined his defence up according to more conventional four-man principles: There were full-backs either side of a libero and a centre-half. To the right, Paraguay had Virginio Cáceres, a 27 year old of Asunción club Guaraní. He had featured once during the Copa, which had been when Manera had made wholesale changes for their final group stage game. Cáceres was hardly adventurous, but he was sturdy defensively. Across from him was 33 year old national team veteran Juan Torales, from Libertad, another capital based club, and though he was capable of various defensive positions, he would give a decent display from the left hand side, despite his right-foot preference.
Paraguay’s libero was another experienced international in Cerro Porteño’s César Zabala. Along with the other three members of their back four, Zabala, aged 28, had also been a part of their 1986 World Cup campaign in Mexico. He was not foreign to working with just a single or indeed two centre-halves around him, and was another steady, reliable customer with plenty of cool. Zabala would generally sit slightly behind his central defensive partner, though he wasn’t just pinned down to the deep: He even allowed himself to challenge further forward, and was even spotted along the right hand side defensively on a couple of occasions. Partnering him was team captain Rogelio Delgado, who at 29 was playing for Independiente across the border to the south, in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. As we’ve touched on, Delgado was a physical presence in the heart of their defence. What he may have lacked in pace, he would compensate for in brute force. Delgado was also not without ability in possession, and would infrequently be the instigator of attacks from the back.
At the base of their three man midfield, Paraguay had 28 year old Olimpia player Jorge Guasch. He was someone true to the manager’s word, and rarely strayed out of position. He tied their midfield together, and was certainly not afraid to get stuck into a challenge. He was not built in the mould of his team captain, yet he let his opponents know what he was about. Guasch seemed to relish a confrontation, though he’d gladly accept that his two midfield comrades were ahead of him in the possession rank.
They were Jorge Amado Nunes, operating to Guasch’ advanced left, and Mexico based Julio César Romero, whose first half position seemed to come with plenty of liberty: He would originally be placed as an inside right man, though he could easily move forward and connect with the forwards, and he could switch out to the right hand side in an attempt to cause some confusion in the visitors’ defence. Aged 28, Romerito, as he was dubbed, was probably at the peak of his career, though he’d been injured for the Copa América, and he was possibly not in his best shape yet. That recent header apart, he’d not made a big impression on the game hitherto. Nunes, another campaigner from the ’86 World Cup, now based in the country of their opponents, with Deportivo in Cali, may have been just 27, though his distinguishable feature, the grey hair, gave the impression of him as someone older. He was equipped with fine work rate and a precise, and at times ambitious, left foot, and he was easily doing more ‘dirty work’ than Romero across from him in midfield.
Up top through the centre, teenage sensation Gustavo Neffa had the physical presence of someone far more senior: He was a very compact player, and despite being up against two sizeable defenders in Perea and Escobar, he definitely did not shy away in challenges. He had arrived at that headed opportunity earlier, and would look to keep Colombia’s central defensive pairing occupied. Working to his right, though not as a wide forward, more as a second striker, was 30 year old Spain based (with Oviedo) Ramón Hicks, one of their nine starters who had also been part of their World Cup team more than three years earlier. Hicks was a busy player, enjoying a mazy run on the ball, and often moving towards the channels or even further wide. However, his original position was relatively close to Neffa, as they operated with distinctly less width along the right hand side than they did down the left, where their third forward was positioned: Alfredo Mendoza. Yet another player with a fine left foot, Mendoza would predominently stick to his flank, and the 25 year old, based in France with Stade Brest, enjoyed his tussle with full-back Wilson Pérez.
As for Colombia
While the hosts play a relatively direct kind of football, where they look to employ their strikers as quickly as they can, either via balls through the centre or in use of the channels, the visitors have a somewhat more laboured approach. Colombia had been dominant against their opponents the previous weekend, though home and away, and certainly in a vociferous, hostile environment in South America, are vastly different matters. They may have looked the more incisive early on, when they had been able to keep the ball among themselves for longer sequences, though once Paraguay had realized that they were there to have a go at, the visitors are looking less like the force they had been against Ecuador.
In their home tie last week, Colombia had brought their full-backs into play inside the opposition’s half a lot: Both Wilson Pérez along the right and León Villa down the left had come forward at will. Here in Paraguay, both wide defenders were distinctly more muted attack-wise. This clearly reduced the visitors’ fluency, and they had to rely on to a greater extent that the two attacking midfielders, Valderrama and Redín, were successful in their probings on the ball. However, it would seem that one of their two holding midfielders, namely Álvarez, was given somewhat more scope to move across the halfway line and into the opposition’s half. He’d already proved something of a threat with a burst down the right hand channel and an, admittedly, weak shot, as well as that sidestepping of Guasch followed by the low drive just wide.
Today was René Higuita’s 23rd anniversary, and he continued in goal after his keeping a clean sheet the previous week. Needless to say, he was a very offensive-minded goalkeeper, and despite a lack of height, he didn’t feel there were shortcomings to his aerial work. He was not afraid to come for the ball despite being surrounded by an opponent or two, though some sides of his game were naturally seen as erratic by pragmatists. Maturana clearly saw through Higuita’s tendency to race outside of his penalty area, although he’d never really risked much against Ecuador and again here in Paraguay.
There had been a change in their four man defensive line, with Carlos Hoyos, 27 years of Atlético Junior, coming into the side at the expense of León Villa, who was nowhere to be seen. This now meant that both full-backs were representatives of the Barranquilla club, as Wilson Pérez continued in his right-back role. The latter was arguably a hard defender who enjoyed getting stuck in, and he’d already committed a tackle on Mendoza which had had yellow written all over it, though he’d only been given a stern lecture by the Chilean referee. Hoyos, naturally left-footed, did not show the same level of composure displayed by Villa in that left-back position: He had a tendency to rush into a challenge. This could leave him short if his opponent wanted to take the ball past him. And though Hoyos also focused primarily on defensive duties, he would cross the halfway line with a tad greater frequency than Pérez opposite.
The centre-back pairing consisted once again of the sizeable Luis Carlos Perea, an athletic 25 year old, and 22 year young Andrés Escobar, both of Atlético Nacional. The latter was the libero, though while he had at times been utilised as an instigator of moves in their home fixture last week, he was rarely involved in build-ups this time around. Due to the power in his left foot, he had been given the opportunity to have a go at goal a few times against Ecuador, but in a more defensively orientated Colombia this time around, he rarely made it beyond the halfway line. Perea would usually be the one who went into combat with Neffa, and he would not always get it his way, despite the opponent’s tender years.
The visitors’ four man midfield once again consisted of two holding midfielders and two more attack-minded playmakers. As mentioned previously, greater importance rested on 26 year old Redín and 27 year old France based Valderrama this time around, due to the absence of attacking full-backs. Colombia’s play was rather focused through the centre, though Paraguay seemed well aware of the threat that they both were able to pose. So far in the game, it is fair to say that neither of Colombia’s two attacking midfielders had duly worried the hosts.
Shielding their defence, the visitors had two further Atlético Nacional players in Leonel Álvarez and José Ricardo Pérez. Both were 24, and both had enjoyed fine performances last time around. Pérez had showed his cool swagger in Barranquilla, but couldn’t quite reach that level on this occasion. While Álvarez was working from the centre towards the right, Pérez similarly would engage himself from the centre towards the left. Álvarez was the busier player of the two, and seemed to have been given greater attacking leniency. This seemed to add a dimension to his performance, though he was well aware that his task first and foremost was covering his central defence. Pérez didn’t quite cover the same amount of ground as his midfield compatriot. Apparently, he was also on an early yellow card.
While Maturana had been using the lanky Albeiro Usuriaga as a wide (right) forward last time around, Colombia were equipped with two more or less straight centre-forwards on this occasion. They had brought Juan Jairo Galeano into the side on Usuriaga’s expense, and he teamed up with the man who had risen so well to head home two goals against the Ecuadorians: 32 year old Arnoldo Iguarán. Galeano seemed intent on giving a good account of himself, and his workrate off the ball was probably the most eye-catching. Iguarán had so far not been able to use his aerial strength, though he’d had an earlier attempt with his left foot from inside the area, albeit without troubling Chilavert much.
Big stars head to head
Considering both teams had midfielders who were former South American ‘Players of the Year’, in Romero (’85) and Valderrama (’87) respectively, there is little in terms of enterprising play from those regions of the pitch. Valderrama appears to struggle for control due to the unwatered and bumpy central areas, while Romero may not be entirely fit, as he predominantly keeps himself out along the right hand channel. Granted, he does offer service from free-kicks, but both his two midfield partners Nunes and Guasch appear superior in influence among the home side’s players.
Visitors up their efforts
While the home side had been well in charge of proceedings for a 20 minute spell or so, Colombia do show some intent of their own for a little spell from around 32 minutes. They finally show some incisiveness in transition, when Álvarez, who is probably being their more influental performer so far, takes the ball out from his own half along the right and hits a long, diagonal cross for Iguarán to run at. The next which happens is that Cáceres appears to take the striker out, and there ought to have been a penalty awarded for the visitors, only for the referee, who had been far away, to point towards the corner flag. Subsequently, Colombia have a free-kick 22-23 yards out, which Redín hits into the defensive wall, and their little spell of optimism culminates in Hoyos’ advance along the left and cross towards the centre, which eludes everyone and reaches Galeano to the right in the area. The striker can’t direct his shot, though, and Paraguay can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Nearing 45 mins
Through to the interval, the hosts regain their shape, and they once again have the lion’s share of the possession. Their midfield interpassing is quite successful, as Colombia’s two attacking midfielders do little pressing, though towards the rear of the visitors’ midfield, Pérez appears to keep an eye out for Romero, who at times tries to wander, coming into little pockets of space in more central areas. Still, he can’t quite stamp much authority on the game, and the left-footed Nunes is the one making greater impression among their central trio.
There is an opportunity when a failed scissors’ kick from Neffa sets Hicks up to the right in the area, five yards from the byline, though as he crosses towards the far post, he can only find opposition full-back Pérez, who heads the ball out for a home left wing corner. Hicks had combined with Neffa a minute prior to that, only for Higuita to bravely come off his line and claim the ball mid-air. They can’t quite carve openings out, the Paraguayans, and down the other end, shortly before the break, they see Iguarán get his head to another Hoyos cross from the left. The full-back had had two forays forward towards the end of the half, though ace marksman Iguarán failed to get any power behind his effort.
0-0 at half-time, something which, in fairness, was giving a decent reflection of how the game was going, even if the hosts had had longer spells where they’d pinned the visitors inside their own half.
The game restarts through Paraguay’s forwards Hicks and Neffa, who at times had given indications of collaborating well during the opening 45 minutes. While it could’ve been thought that Hicks would operate wide right, he had been working much closer to Neffa towards the centre of their attack. Perhaps had it so far failed to yield any goalscoring opportunities, though these tactics could’ve taken Colombia by surprise still. The visitors had often looked second best during the first half.
Paraguay’s ‘pass and move’ tactics appeared to continue after the break. They maintain possession for long sequences right upon the restart, and though it rarely brings them in immediate vicinity to Higuita’s goal, they make sure to stretch their opponents’ legs. Colombia, as opposed to last week, look lackadaisical, and their cohesion, which had been well orchestrated only a week earlier, had seemed to evade them.
We’d wanted greater contribution from a couple of the pitch’ star men, and neither Romero nor Valderrama would start the second half all guns blazing either. In fact, the former, after an indifferent performance, would be replaced just over five minutes into the second half. Having worked as their inside right midfielder, he would now leave the field in order to be replaced by Javier Ferreira, a 20 year old was a feature for Asunción club Libertad, just like Torales, the left-back on this occasion. Interestingly, the young left-sided midfielder had been joint topscorer during the 1988 South American Youth Championships, netting five times during Paraguay’s run through the second and final group stage. Could he boost their attacking credentials?
Ferreira heads straight across the pitch to take up that inside right midfield position which Romero had held, though one spots immediately that he’s clearly a player favouring his left foot. He looks enthusiastic, as you’d expect from a 20 year old international, and with the early appetite which he’s showing, one senses that he can help give the hosts a further lift, as strange as it may sound, considering the fact that a player the stature of Julio César Romero had just left the pitch.
There’s a couple of bookings in quick succession, one for either team, as Paraguay libero Zabala first stops a lifted ball from reaching Iguarán through the means of a couple of outstretched arms. He acknowledges his error, though he’d got it his way in denying the striker a run in behind him. Three minutes later it is Galeano who is shown the yellow, although we do not know what it is for, as the TV production company had been busy giving a replay of another incident. There is little doubt, though, that it is Galeano who is at the receiving end of the Chilean referee’s fourth booking of the game. Indeed, Valderrama, too, ought to have gone in the book for an earlier foul on Mendoza well inside his own half. Señor Silva had let that one pass.
We have an opening goal on 59 minutes, and it arrived after Colombia centre-back Perea had brought Neffa down with a tackle from behind in the Paraguayan left-sided channel. They now had several left-footed players well capable of swinging a cross into the centre, with substitute Ferreira adding to those of Nunes and Mendoza already existing. It was the 20 year old who hit it into the area, and eventually, after a couple of duels, the ball was worked to the left of the penalty spot, where Ferreira had since taken up his position, as the ball arrived to him from Guasch. Ferreira took a touch to create a better angle for himself, before releasing a low strike through the legs of Higuita, who had come out from his goal to the six yard line in order to close the shooter down. Fair to say in this situation that Colombia right-back Pérez was slightly out of position, ball-watching in the centre, abandoning his territory and leaving space for both Ferreira and even Hicks to Ferreira’s left. 1-0 to the home side, while the visitors had made a substitution of their own just prior to the goal in taking Galeano off for Atlético Nacional team mate Albeiro Usuriaga.
The second half is turning out to be much more eventful than the opening 45 minutes. Paraguay now have their valuable goal, and they look spirited as a result, with Colombia failing to properly ignite. They had brought Usuriaga on in a role mirroring the one he had held in last week’s win over Ecuador, wide to the right, and the visitors were looking to send him away down that flank and in behind home left-back Torales. However, the latter, aged 33 and with a wealth of international experience, wouldn’t allow the physical Usuriaga time or space, something which seemed to frustrate the 23 year old Medellín man. He would concede a free-kick for getting hold of Torales’ torso in one incident.
Is there a vendetta going on from big centre-back Perea against Neffa, the home striker? They had had some strong battles going on for large chunks of the game, and though most had seemed to be fair, the former could well have been aggrieved by Neffa’s high boot on him in the Colombian penalty area on 65 minutes. Two minutes later, Perea gets his back as he deliberately clips the heels of Neffa, who is about to race onto a through ball. The referee has read the situation very well, and wastes no time in issuing a yellow for the robust Atlético Nacional defender.
Paraguay express freedom
Paraguay appear to be more flexible in their positioning since the introduction of Ferreira. While the attacking midfielder has slotted into the position left vacant by Romero, he clearly has freedom to roam, and he will at times wander across the pitch to work along the left. There, he will coexist with Nunes, their inside left midfield man, and left-sided forward Mendoza, and together they will pose problems for Colombia’s Álvarez and Wilson Pérez. One also sees Mendoza drift across towards the right hand side, and it would certainly appear so that some of the Paraguayan players now enjoy greater freedom in their whereabouts. With Guasch a steady presence at the rear of the midfield, at times assisted by the hard-working Nunes, they can allow for four players to express attacking liberty.
While Galeano had been relatively muted by the host defence, Colombia were looking to tall, strong forward Usuriaga to make headway now as a right-sided forward. So far, eight-nine minutes into his cameo, he had not been a success. Iguarán, who had in fact scored a hat-trick against Paraguay during the 1987 Copa América, had also been contained, though this had to do with Colombia being less of an attacking threat collectively. They had rarely managed to bring either of Valderrama and Redín into play, and now in the second half, a couple more forays by left-back Hoyos had been what little they had had to offer. Maturana clearly felt the need to address this, especially now with his team a goal down. On came left-footed forward Rubén Darío Hernández for holding midfield man Pérez. Hernández had also been brought on last week, and had shown glimpses of his pace and trickery as a left-sided forward.
There had just about been sufficient time for Colombia to display their new, three-pronged forward line, in which, as could’ve been assumed, Hernández had gone into a wide left position, when disaster struck from their point of view: Paraguay were working for possession along their left hand side, just a few yards inside the visitors’ half, and with Guasch unable to successfully fend off Usuriaga, the ball was played back to Nunes right on the halfway line. Totally uncalled for, Álvarez approached him and decided to chop him down from behind, and though the incident probably had looked worse initially than what it was, the referee, who had been about 15 yards away, promptly displayed the red card for the Colombian holding midfielder, a role which he had been alone in for about a minute and a half since Ricardo Pérez’ exit. Already a goal down, the visitors were now even a man short. And Álvarez had been among their better players until that moment.
Ten man shape
4-2-3 seemed to be the new guidelines under which the visitors were now operating. They saw little need in bolstering their defensive aspects, but rather kept at it with the three men up top, something which was a bold, yet necessary, decision by the manager. While there had been not enough time before the sending off to see the shape of the Colombian midfield prior to Álvarez walking, it could now be revealed that Valderrama and Redín were left to working alone in the engine room.
Nunes, who had been on the receiving end of Álvarez’ headless action, had not been seriously injured, something which was vital to the hosts. He had had an inspired performance in the centre of the pitch, allowing for midfield stability around Guasch, letting their four remaining, more attacking players deal with events higher up in the pitch. Perhaps as a ‘thank you for getting my mate sent off’, Usuriaga gave Nunes another push to the ground, this time through the means of two straight arms into his upper body. Nunes had definitely taken some battering during a game which was beginning to look like a proper battle by now. However, it had never been outright nasty. Even the sending-off had seemed somewhat harsh.
Niggles & substitution
There is little suggesting that Paraguay’s lead, albeit slender, is under threat, as the hosts continue to be on the front foot. With little niggles going on between various players, there’s a number of free-kicks in quick succession, mostly in favour of the home side, whose players are more relaxed, well aware of the fact that they have the all-important lead, and that the game is entering its final stage.
Ré makes his second and final substitution when he withdraws the increasingly invisible Hicks for Buenaventura Ferreira, yet another player who has been a feature at international level for years. This Ferreira is a team mate of right-back Cáceres at club level with Guaraní, and 29 years of age, he should possess enough guile to be able to help the hosts see the game out. He had played to the right among their front three during the 1986 World Cup, and in replacing Hicks, it was a natural thing for him to take up precisely that attacking slot once again.
Another player who at times looks a deject and very frustrated figure is Bernardo Redín. The Deportivo Cali ace, so highly thought of among his peers, has also not been able to influence much on proceedings, and it seemed just about right that the referee awarded him a booking for a trip on Javier Ferreira halfway inside the visitors’ half. This was the fourth yellow card for Colombia, in addition to the recently issued red. Even if they were losing and hardly looking like they could turn the corner, they could not afford to have further players suspended for their next qualifier. However, Redín had already been booked in the Ecuador match, and would now suffer an identical fate to that of Álvarez in missing out on their forthcoming trip to Guayaquil.
Visitors draw level!
Out of nothing, Colombia stunningly draw level with four minutes left on the clock. It is substitute Hernández, from Redín’s pass, who has run himself free along the left, where Paraguay right-back Cáceres must have momentarily switched off, and with libero Zabala coming out into space to close Hernández down, the Millonarios man finds his team mate at both club and country levels, Iguarán, who sharply turns Delgado and fires a low, diagonal left-footed shot beyond Chilavert and into the corner of the goal for an unlikely equalizer. It is three goals from two qualifiers for the 32 year old. This now is a scoreline which puts Colombia firmly in charge of the group, and to have earned it with ten men and so late in the game, it is no wonder that their players are extatic. The crowd goes completely silent.
In the wake of the sudden equalizer, the Paraguayan players appear shell-shocked. They had not let Colombia even have a small sniff around their goal earlier in the half, and then they dozed off for a moment and Redín/Hernández/Iguarán all took advantage. They would take a couple of minutes to regroup, then collect themselves for a final onslaught against the tested visiting backline. Could this game have another, epic twist to it?
Young Neffa had looked threatening just prior to Colombia’s goal, as he’d run through from Javier Ferreira’s ball, only to be adjudged offside as he was attempting to take it around Higuita, and then he’d latched on to Buenaventura Ferreira’s header following Chilavert’s long kick downfield. From 18 yards, his attempted left-footed lob, against a Higuita who certainly liked to come out from his goalline, had too much air under it and had drifted well over.
Late, late drama
Paraguay certainly went long now, and the second Ferreira to come on proved himself as capable in the air; he was usually the target with balls up from the back. It would take the home side about six minutes to work themselves into a crossing position from the left inside the area, where Javier Ferreira had been played in, with Wilson Pérez perhaps again being poorly positioned. His cross was flicked on by Redín, and next Escobar won in the air against Neffa, only for the ball to sail across to the right inside the area. Paraguay’s captain Delgado set his sight on the ball, but so too did Higuita, who had come racing out from his goal in what seemed like a very, very risky decision. And too right: Higuita arrives on the scene a split second late, as he clatters into Delgado who had just got his head to the ball. The referee has no option but to award the home side a penalty. We are already into injury time.
What happens next probably only occurs in South America. The visiting players immediately surround the referee, as they desperately try to make him realize that the decision is wrong. In fact, they argue so furiously that the riot police enters the pitch in big numbers. They keep the Colombian players, who are raging at the thought of losing this game in injury time, and the referee apart, and at one point you get the feeling that the visitors wish to return to the dressing-room in an attempt at having the game abandoned. The law enforcement remain on the pitch for several minutes, and only six minutes after the decision to award the penalty has been made can the spot-kick take place.
Sensationally, it was Paraguay’s ‘keeper, 24 year old debutant José Luis Chilavert, who stepped up to strike the 12 yard kick. So it was a goalkeepers’ duel: Chilavert vs Higuita. Would you believe. The left-footed Chilavert was eventually given the chance to take aim, despite some further protests from the visiting players, and he sent the ball low to the right of his adversary: Paraguay had snatched a highly dramatic lead six minutes into time added on. It was a very well struck penalty, and Higuita had already committed himself by taking a step to his right, thus being wrong-footed.
Even after the goal, the game carried on for a couple more minutes, though there was no way Paraguay would allow their visitors back into it for a second time. They maintained possession until time was up, nearly nine minutes into additional time. The hosts had got their qualification campaign under way with a big, big win against the other group favourites.
It had been a relatively dour first half, where goalmouth action had been scarce, though where the hosts had had a stronger grip of possession. Yet, they had hardly seemed adventurous, and defending their goal had not been too much of a problem for the visitors.
The game would certainly come to life in the second half, and only really after Paraguay had withdrawn their big playmaker Romero, who had been nowhere near his best. On had come 20 year old Javier Ferreira, who shortly after making his entrance scored the opening goal through the legs of Higuita.
A number of bookings and even a red card for Colombia holding midfield man Álvarez followed, and though there were a good few niggles out on the pitch, you didn’t really feel that it was a match played out in a nasty spirit. Without ever having looked threatening, Colombia struck a late equalizer through Iguarán, and then conceded deep into time added on from the penalty spot, after Higuita had punched Delgado in the head. Such drama. Great second half spectacle. And a deserved home win in the end.
1 Chilavert 6.8
had very little to do. No chance for the goal, and a national hero as he confidently tucked away that late, late penalty
2 Cáceres 7.0
a performance along the right side in defence with plenty of commitment, yet little finesse. Lucky not to be awarded a penalty against when he challenged Iguarán first half, and his crosses usually came from deep positions
3 Zabala 6.9
the libero concentrated on his defensive duties, one attacking first half foray apart. Solid, yet unspectacular
4 Torales 7.0
the experienced customer rarely got into trouble defensively, a misplaced pass apart. Did not contribute in coming forward, but looked after Usuriaga well
5 Delgado 7.2
proved his worth as an inspirational figure through some big challenges along the ground, and also was solid whenever the ball came airborn. Delievered some lofty balls forward with his left foot
6 Guasch 7.4
kept the hosts’ midfield together in his deep role, from where he contributed with clever positioning and simple distribution, as well as some aggressive challenges along the ground. Assist for the opening goal
7 Hicks 6.9
had a fairly lively first half, in which he was often an option through the centre or slightly towards the right, but his influence vaned as the game wore on. Eventually replaced for tactical reasons
(14 B Ferreira –
brought on late to win headers, and notably did so as he sat Neffa up for his lobbed attempt. Operated further wide to the right than Hicks had done)
8 Romero 6.6
replaced early second half without ever excelling or reaching the peak of his potential, though he did have a fine run into the area when he arrived at his headed opportunity. Disappointing performance by his standards
(15 J Ferreira 7.4
a very inspirational substitute performance, and offered plenty of threat with his efficient left foot. Scored his first ever international goal shortly after coming on, and roamed well from his inside right position)
9 Neffa 7.3
for such a young player, he had plenty of physicality about him, and he didn’t shirk any challenge, even with the robust Colombian centre-backs. Had seen his first half close range header saved, and ran himself into some fine positions. Inspirational performance
10 Nunes 7.4
a tigerish performance, and offered plenty in terms of set-pieces and distribution through his trusted left foot. Helped balancing their midfield. Victim of some big second half challenges, and also at the receiving end when Álvarez was sent off
11 Mendoza 7.2
clearly an asset along the left in attack, as he duly troubled Wilson Pérez for spells. Came inside to decent effect, and second half particularly he formed part of an efficient left hand side along with Nunes and (Javier) Ferreira
1 Higuita 6.8
his offensive-thinking was what ultimately cost him as he conceded that costly penalty in injury time. Until then, he’d dealt with most of what had come his way, though he’d had a wobble aerially at one point
2 Escobar 6.8
less in direct combat than Perea, and did show his ability in reading the game a couple of times, but also not as confident as in last week’s showing
4 Wilson Pérez 6.3
put in a couple of big tackles, but still struggled to contain the lively Mendoza. Also offered next to nothing attack wise in a very defensively-orientated display. Positioning let him down both for the goal against and when the late penalty occured
5 Hoyos 6.6
offers distinctly more forward assistance than his full-back colleague, though rushes into some challenges defensively and leaves a somewhat erratic impression
6 Ricardo Pérez 6.2
after his composed, elegant showing last week, this was a big disappointment, as he never managed to display the same level of influence. Looked sluggish. Replaced as Maturana sought more attacking power
(11 Hernández –
brought on to offer width along the left, and like the previous week, looked lively on those few occasions when he was involved. Provided the assist for Iguarán’s equalizer)
9 Galeano 6.4
of little threat, and felt the force of the opposition’s defenders a few times. Saw yellow in the second half, and was subsequently replaced for a more wide option
(7 Usuriaga 6.2
came on in his wide right forward role, but despite his powerful individual style, he could not make much headway down his flank. Effectively dealt with by Torales)
10 Redín 6.6
last week he’d often resembled a human bulldozer in how he had made advance at gathering pace, though this time around he was part of an incoherent midfield, and failed to provide necessary attacking spark. Still, played Hernández down the wing for the latter’s goal assist late on
12 Valderrama 6.5
was given little space in which to shine, and did not have much say on proceedings, as the Paraguayan midfield worked their socks off to prevent him from excelling
14 Álvarez 7.0
combative display in which he also produced a few fine attacking runs, and his first half shot from distance just wide had threatened. A tad unfortunate to see red for his challenge on Nunes, though the challenge had been over the top
15 Perea 6.8
despite relying on physique, he didn’t always have it his way in challenges with teenager Neffa. In fact, looked a little uncomfortable at times, and was not quite the solid customer of last week
16 Iguarán 7.0
easily the Colombian danger man. Should’ve had a first half penalty. Quite mobile, yet didn’t prove to be the same power in the air as against Ecuador. Took his goal confidently