Paraguay arrived for the start of the World Cup qualification on the back of a very recent managerial change: Since their appearance in the second (and final) group stage in the 1989 edition of Copa América, which had finished on July 16, Argentine boss Eduardo Luján Manera had been replaced by Cayetano Ré. The latter, aged 51, was indeed returning to his former managerial post, as he’d led the Paraguayan team during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where they had reached the round of 16, bowing out to England.
Paraguay had since exited the 1987 version of Copa América after the group stage, failing to score a single goal in their two matches under head coach Silvio Parodi, and then, only recently, progressed through to the second stage along with the continent’s big guns Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Despite their inability, again, to notch even a single goal, their progress from the original group stage must have come as a fine boost. They’d won their first three matches scoring nine goals in the process, before changing their team around a little ahead of the final, and (more or less) meaningless, group stage game against Brazil, losing 2-0. Subsequent losses to Uruguay and Brazil (again), as well as a scoreless draw with equally goal-shy Argentinians, meant they had finished bottom of the final group.
With the availability of former boss Ré, Manera had to go. The former Spain professional (he had featured for Elche, Barcelona, Espanyol, Terrassa and Badalona across 14 years) had been in charge of Real Betis during the 1988/89 season, which had ended in relegation from the top flight. Still, he apparently was held in high regard within the Paraguayan FA.
During the 1986 World Cup, Paraguay under Ré had appeared in a 4-3-3 formation, where César Zabala, a 25 year old of Cerro Porteño in Asunción, had been their libero behind the bearded Rogelio Delgado. The same formation had indeed been in use during the Copa América under Manera, and so to the current crop of players available for selection, this seemed a good fit. They had indeed lined up in three of four matches then using players with shirt numbers 1-11, with number 16 Jorge Guasch appearing for their final group stage game, the 2-2 draw with Belgium, due to left-back Vladimiro Schettina’s suspension for having accumulated two yellow cards.
Then Brazil based midfield playmaker Julio César Romero had been the big star of that ’86 team, as he had been voted ‘South American player of the year’ in 1985, playing for Fluminense. An injured Romero had not been present during the recently held continental championships, though the now 28 year old would return in time for the start of the World Cup qualification. He had tested himself in the Spanish league with Barcelona, though had returned to ‘his’ side of the Atlantic Ocean to feature for Mexican club Puebla before the start of the World Cup qualification. Romero’s seven Primera División matches had yielded one goal in the famous Barça jersey.
In the recently held Copa, four players had registered two goals each: Midfielder Adolfino Cañete, 17 year young hotshot Gustavo Neffa, Alfredo Mendoza and Buenaventura Ferreira. Neffa apart, the three others had all appeared during the 1986 World Cup. Indeed, manager Ré would still hold close to him many of the players who had featured in the Mexico tournament. He could also welcome back several players of fine calibre who had not taken part in the Copa América. Players like midfielders Jorge Nunes, Julio César Romero and young Javier Ferreira, as well as forwards Ramón Hicks and hopefully Roberto Cabañas, would certainly strengthen them, as could a possible goalkeeping debutant by the name of José Luis Chilavert do.
In a tight-looking group, Paraguay would surely prove to be a match for both Colombia (whom they’d beaten during the Copa) and Ecuador, and, as you’d expect, particularly at home in their capital of Asunción, where they’d be playing both matches in the Estadio Defensores del Chaco. Could they go all the way and win the group, and qualify for the inter-continental play-off match against the winners of the Oceania group, though?
15.05.1989: Paraguay 1-1 Peru
Goal: Brítez Román
Line-up: Fernández – Cáceres, Caballero, Rivarola, Viera – Franco, Escobar, Almirón – B Ferreira, Palacios, Brítez
also used: Román, Aranda
25.05.1989: Bolivia 3-2 Paraguay
Goals: Rojas, Franco
Line-up: Fernández – Cáceres, Caballero, Rivarola, Jacquet – Franco, Chamorro, J Ferreira – B Ferreira, Palacios, Brítez
also used: Ramírez, Riveros, Torres
01.06.1989: Paraguay 2-0 Bolivia
Goals: B Ferreira (2)
Line-up: Espínola – Cáceres, Caballero, Delgado, Rivarola – Franco, Riveros, J Ferreira – B Ferreira, Palacios, Brítez
also used: Torres
First group stage
01.07.1989: Paraguay 5-2 Peru (Estádio Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil)
Goals: Cañete (2), Neffa, Mendoza, del Solar (own goal)
Line-up (4-3-3): Fernández – Torales, Zabala, Delgado (c), Jacquet – Franco, Guasch, Cañete – B Ferreira, Neffa (Palacios 75), Mendoza (Sanabria 86)
It had been a relatively cautious opening in which Paraguay had probably had the upper hand in terms of possession, but neither team were applying much in terms of pressure. Jacquet pushed well forward from his left-back position, while Cañete looked lively in midfield. Paraguay found themselves trailing on the half hour, though, but then went on to boss the final ten minutes of the opening period, and scored through Cañete and teenage striking sensation Neffa. After the break, Paraguay quickly increased their lead, then sat back and soaked up whatever was coming from their opponents, which wasn’t, in fairness, a whole lot. The Paraguayans were dangerous on the counter, and notched a fourth after an unlucky own goal by del Solar. The best goal of the afternoon was Cañete’s to round the scoring up. Despite a seven goal affair, it wasn’t a formidable spectacle. Both teams struggled to control the ball on the dreadfully uneven surface. All considered, Paraguay must be very content with such a scoreline in their opening championship tie.
05.07.1989: Paraguay 1-0 Colombia (Estádio Fonte Nova, Salvador)
Line-up (4-3-3): Fernández – Torales, Zabala, Delgado (c), Jacquet – Franco, Guasch, Cañete – B Ferreira, Neffa (Sanabria 88), Mendoza (Palacios 80). Unused subs: Ruiz Díaz, Caballero, Cáceres
Manager Manera felt no need to change anything in his starting eleven from the mauling of Peru, and once again on that awful Fonte Nova pitch, they were probably the team looking the more likely to force the opener in a goalless first half. They had to endure an edgy rebound from Fernández after Iguarán’s 25 yard drive, though defensively, they didn’t have a whole lot of bother thanks to the opposition’s meticulous approach. The Paraguayans themselves were more direct, and were looking to hurt the Colombians from a number of set-piece situations. They never came closer than when they struck the bar through Ferreira late in the half, after Mendoza had advanced along the left and angled the ball back 45 degrees. Franco was seen quite a lot on the ball, and the inside right midfielder even tried a late, audacious lob from all of 40 yards, having spotted Higuita off his goalline. Just over, although the colourful Colombian custodian had it covered anyway. After the break, the Paraguayan team struck early through Mendoza after an exquisite throughball by Neffa, and they kept looking the more positive team despite having got that all important goal. It wasn’t until late that they started delaying tactics, displaying their cynical side. There were warnings for Franco, Jacquet and Guasch, but Paraguay were good value for their win, as the opposition could never truly test Fernández. Hugely important two points.
07.07.1989: Paraguay 3-0 Venezuela (Estádio Fonte Nova, Salvador)
Goals: Neffa, B Ferreira (2)
Line-up (4-3-3): Fernández – Torales, Zabala (Caballero 84), Delgado (c), Jacquet – Franco, Guasch, Cañete – B Ferreira (Palacios 78), Neffa, Mendoza. Unused subs: Ruiz Díaz, Sanabria, Brítez Román
There had been no cause for Manera to change anything around for the meeting with the group’s bottom ranked team, and they lined up with the same starting eleven for the third game in succession, knowing that a handsome win would take them to the brink of group victory, and for sure secure their place in the final group stage. However, as the first half unfolded, complacency had looked to have crept into their play, as they could not get it right against spirited opposition. Paraguay had Fernández to thank for three saves as Venezuela racked up scoring opportunities, twice through the tournament’s leading goalscorer Maldonado and then through midfielder Jaimes. The Paraguayans had been unable to draw a save from Baena until Neffa notched his first of the tournament after a somewhat fortuitous strike under a challenge by Acosta. The ball evaded the ‘keeper and crept in by the post for an undeserved half-time lead. Early in the second, Paraguay were at it again, as Ferreira controlledly headed home Mendoza’s cross from ten yards, and while the opposition kept asking questions, Paraguay didn’t really concede opportunities like they had done before the break. Still, the three goal winning margin, after Ferreira had scored his second on the turn, was flattering. They were now eyeing the chance of winning the group, with Brazil v Colombia to come next.
09.07.1989: Brazil 2-0 Paraguay (Estádio Arruda, Recife)
Line-up (4-3-3): Ruiz Díaz – Cáceres, Rivarola (Delgado 80), Caballero, Torales – Franco, Sanabria, Chamorro – Palacios, Neffa (B Ferreira 65), Brítez Román. Unused subs: Fernández, Jacquet, Guasch
With eight changes to their starting line-up, manager Manera had opted to give the majority of his regulars a rest ahead of the final group stage. They knew they could tolerate defeat even by a two-goal margin and still finish top of the group, though they gave a stubborn first half impression against hosts which probably were a bit anxious, and despite a couple of hairy early moments, Paraguay composed themselves and earned their 0-0 half-time score. Rivarola, libero for Zabala, had failed to spot Romário as he attempted to play the ball back to Ruiz Díaz, but thankfully for the defender his goalkeeper bailed him out by foiling the striker. Neffa looked rich in initiative up top, and was the major cause for concern to the Brazilian defence in a half where the pace was generally average. It had been Torales, switched from right to left back, Franco, remained in his inside right midfield role, and Neffa who had stayed on since their previous three matches, and in particular Franco had been industrious. They conceded early in the second half from Bebeto, but kept plugging away, even if their only real chance to conjure up a goal had seemed to be from a set-piece. Neffa was replaced by Ferreira on 65 minutes, while they conceded a few opportunities to the hosts. However, the second goal, Bebeto again, only arrived after Rivarola had come off injured to be replaced by Delgado, something which brought Caballero back into the ‘last man’ position. The two goal defeat was just within the realm for Paraguay to finish first in the group. Uruguay to come next three days later. Regarding the captaincy, it is difficult to confirm from watching the game, but it could possibly be midfielder Sanabria, performing Guasch’ holding role, who had taken over for Delgado.
Second group stage
12.07.1989: Uruguay 3-0 Paraguay (Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)
Line-up: Fernández – Caballero, Zabala, Delgado (c), Jacquet – Franco (Palacios 69), Guasch, Cañete (Escobar 77) – B Ferreira, Neffa, Mendoza. Unused subs: Ruiz Díaz, Torales, Sanabria
Having negotiated their way through the first group stage as winners, Paraguay were embarking on their final journey without much pressure; they had already what could’ve been expected from them. Manera had let most of his second strings feature in the final group stage match, though here he had obviously brought back the players whom he felt made up his strongest XI. One player had managed to force his way into the eleven: Luis Caballero. Originally a centre-back, he was placed in the right-back position for veteran Torales. The latter was among Paraguay’s five substitutes for this tie. Other than that, it was business as usual. The first half turned out to be one in which Paraguay just shaded possession, though they found themselves a goal down having conceded on the break. Goalkeeper Fernández had failed to cut out the ball through to Sosa on the right, and in turn he’d found Francescoli for an header into the empty net, with Cañete unable to reach the ball ahead of him. They had, however, created a couple of fine openings themselves, most notably for Cañete, the industrious midfielder, who finished low into Zeoli’s arms from the edge of the area, while a cross from the right by the same man saw a hairy moment by de León as the centre-back cleared it just over his own bar. However, there were opportunities down the other end, too, and Caballero had not lent a favourable impression as the deputy right-back. During the final 45 minutes, Paraguay’s vulnerability in recovery runs were exposed multiple times, although they themselves had a right go to get back on even terms. In fact, they created three fine opportunities to level, twice with Mendoza drawing saves from Zeoli from an angle inside the area, and then a Neffa header was tipped over. For all they were pushing, the Paraguayans just opened themselves up even more, which was just what Uruguay had wanted. Having failed to take advantage of a number of counters, they finally put the opposition to the sword through scoring twice inside the final few minutes. The 3-0 scoreline was harsh on Paraguay, who certainly would’ve felt they at least had warranted a goal. Delgado accepted plenty of second half responsibility, and stood out. Highly entertaining game to watch for the so-called neutrals.
14.07.1989: Brazil 3-0 Paraguay (Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)
Line-up (4-3-3): Fernández – Torales, Zabala, Delgado (c), Jacquet – Franco, Guasch, Cañete (Sanabria h-t) – B Ferreira, Neffa, Palacios. Unused subs: Ruiz Díaz, Caballero, Escobar, Brítez Román
Having lost by three to Uruguay, Paraguay were now just playing for pride. They had brought Torales back into the starting line-up, but there was no Mendoza to see this time. The wide left forward wasn’t even among their substitutes. Palacios was brought into the team, and during the first half, their front three this time were probably more dynamic than what had been the case until then. They fell behind on the quarter of an hour mark, as the Paraguayans failed to prevent Brazil from arriving in various crossing positions. The marking on Bebeto, who headed home Mazinho’s cross, was non-existing. Palacios had their best opportunity when he took on a Neffa pass and shot low with his left foot on the turn, only to see Taffarel dive to his left to keep it out. Fernández saved superbly when Romário headed from close range, and also pushed a Branco free-kick over. Paraguay conceded a number of opportunities towards the end of the half, but also had another one themselves when Franco failed to hit the target with a half volley from inside the area. After the break, Manera opted to bring Sanabria on for Cañete, which meant a different order of midfield appearance: Guasch remained the deep one, while Franco moved from inside right to Cañete’s inside left, in order to accommodate Sanabria in the inside right job. They were no match for the hosts, who had scored a further two goals by the hour, and Paraguay simply had no answer to the relentless Mazinho, who burst forward along their right hand side at will, and assisted for all three goals. Fernández later tipped a close range Renato header on to the bar, while Neffa, Paraguay’s best forward on the day, had a low drive wide to the right of the goal frame for what was their best opportunity in the second half. On to Argentina on the final day of the tournament.
16.07.1989: Paraguay 0-0 Argentina (Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)
Line-up (4-3-3): Fernández – Cáceres, Zabala, Delgado (c), Torales – Sanabria, Guasch, Franco – Palacios, Neffa (Escobar 60), Mendoza (Brítez 86)
Paraguay’s campaign, which had been so impressive, at least results wise, throughout the initial group stage, was by now assuming slightly disappointing proportions. They had failed to make their mark against either of Uruguay and Brazil, and particularly in the latter game, they had been well and truly outclassed. There had been cracks at the back exposed, and players were probably beginning to feel fatigued from the gruelling tournament schedule. Manera had once again set his team up in the expected 4-3-3 formation. Cáceres was back in at right-back following his brief inclusion for the final game in the previous group stage, with Torales again switching across to the left, leaving Jacquet out. Sanabria had come in for a start in midfield, after his second half appearance last time out. He had played in Guasch’ holding role in the final group stage game against Brazil, when there had been wholesale changes, but on this occasion he was appearing in the inside right role, thus again leaving Franco to take up the inside left job, like in their previous fixture’s second half. Mendoza was back in the team after having missed out last time, taking up his usual position along the left, with Neffa and Palacios both more or less working through the centre. Cáceres was the one to provide any width down the right, pushing on from his full-back position. While the first half was a tedious one, Paraguay were probably just about edging it. Neffa had tested Pumpido with a drive from the edge of the area, and also seen a header flicked just wide from a free-kick into the area. They should have had a penalty when Monzón handled in the air against Palacios, but the referee had felt it happened a couple of inches outside. The subsequent free-kick, rather than penalty, was poorly wasted by Mendoza. Down their own end, Fernández had a hairy moment early doors when he failed to get to a cross, although behind him, Balbo couldn’t quite connect, and late in the half the big stopper had easily caught Díaz’ low strike on goal. Paraguay could’ve fallen behind within five minutes of the restart, but had a lucky escape when Alfaro Moreno couldn’t turn in Troglio’s cross. They struggled to cope with the higher intensity in Argentina’s pressure, but from an hour onwards this was no longer an issue. The little Escobar replaced Neffa, who had picked up a knock, and Paraguay went 4-3-1-2, with the substitute working behind Palacios/Mendoza. The former would head wide from a good position 16 minutes from time. 0-0 or 0-1 had little to say for Paraguay, as they’d finish bottom of the pool with either scoreline, but they could well have lost as Balbo failed to get his header on the back stick on target after Fernández had flopped at Alfaro Moreno’s cross with a few minutes remaining. 0-0 was how it ended. Dull. Very forgettable.