Manager Orlando Enrique Aravena Vergara, aged 46 by the time the qualification started, was into his third year as the Chilean national team boss. He had led them to a wonderful runners-up finish in the 1987 Copa América during his first year, but in the continental tournament which had just finished as the qualification was about to begin, they had failed to get beyond the group stage. That must surely have been a disappointment, though with Brazil being in their qualification group, and with only the winners going through, expectancy must have been kept at a moderate level.
In the two years which had passed from Chile’s silver medals in Argentina in ’87 through to the recent edition in Brazil, just nine from 20 players had been retained in the squad. Whilst just two players had been foreign based in 1987, the number had risen to eight two years later. Could that partly have explained their failure?
Chile had accepted an invitation across to the UK to feature in the 1989 edition of ‘Rous Cup’, an annual tournament which was in its sixth year already. They had played both England and Scotland, as well as met Northern Ireland in a friendly between those two fixtures. A 0-0 draw at Wembley in a defensive display had been a pleasing outcome, whilst they’d suffered a 2-0 blow at the hands of the Scottish. During the week which they’d been in the United Kingdom, they had also defeated the Northern Irish by the only goal of the game courtesy of a goal from stout defender Fernando Astengo.
Upon leaving Great Britain, Chile had also stopped by Egypt upon their return home. Their 3 June friendly in Cairo had yielded a 2-0 defeat.
During the Copa América, Chile had lost their first two matches, 1-0 to Argentina and 3-0 to Uruguay, something which had more or less sealed their exit already. They had redeemed themselves somewhat through winning both of their outstanding fixtures, trouncing Bolivia 5-0 and then beating a decent Ecuador outfit 2-1. A total of six players had got their names on the scoresheet.
Well aware that stopping the Brazilians in their tracks would take some doing, Chile must have had fairly moderate expectations ahead of the qualification. Looking at the fixture list, they would need to win their first three, and then hope that they could topple Brazil on goal difference in order to progress, taking into the equation a loss in Rio de Janeiro. That would mean a first World Cup participation since 1982.
23.05.1989: England 0-0 Chile
Line-up: Rojas – Reyes, Astengo, Gonzáles, L Contreras – Ormeño, Hurtado (Vera 60), Espinoza, Pizarro – Rubio, Covarrubias (Letelier h-t)
26.05.1989: Northern Ireland 0-1 Chile
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, L Contreras, Astengo (Olmos h-t), Gonzáles, Reyes – Espinoza, Vera, Pizarro – Letelier (Pérez), Hurtado (Covarrubias h-t)
30.05.1989: Scotlad 2-0 Chile
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, Gonzáles, Reyes, Puebla – Olmos, Pizarro, Vera, J A Contreras – Rubio, Covarrubias (Letelier h-t)
03.06.1989: Egypt 2-0 Chile
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, Gonzáles, Reyes, Puebla – Martínez, Pizarro, Vera, J A Contreras – Tudor, Ramírez
19.06.1989: Uruguay 2-2 Chile
Goals: Gonzáles, Pizarro
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, Astengo, Gonzáles, Reyes – Carrasco, Ormeño, Vera, Pizarro – Hurtado (Olmos), Covarrubias (Letelier)
22.06.1989: Bolivia 0-1 Chile
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, Astengo, Gonzáles, Reyes – Carrasco, Ormeño, Vera (Olmos), Pizarro – Letelier (Tudor), Covarrubias (Ramírez)
27.06.1989: Chile 2-1 Bolivia
Goals: Covarrubias, Pizarro (pen)
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, Astengo, Gonzáles (L Contreras), Reyes – Carrasco, Hurtado (Ramírez), Vera, Pizarro – Letelier, Covarrubias
02.07.1989: Argentina 1-0 Chile (neutral ground in Goiânia, Brazil)
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, L Contreras, Gonzáles, Reyes, Puebla – Ormeño (Hurtado 63), Vera (Letelier 55), Pizarro – Olmos, Covarrubias
06.07.1989: Uruguay 3-0 Chile (neutral ground in Goiânia, Brazil)
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, L Contreras, Gonzáles, Reyes, Puebla – Olmos, Hurtado, Pizarro – Letelier (Vera 70), Covarrubias
08.07.1989: Chile 5-0 Bolivia (neutral ground in Goiânia, Brazil)
Goals: Olmos, Ramírez, Astengo, Pizarro (pen), Reyes
Line-up: Rojas (Cornez h-t) – Reyes, Astengo, Gonzáles, Puebla – Olmos, Hisis, Pizarro – Ramírez, Hurtado (Vera 60), Covarrubias
10.07.1989: Chile 2-1 Ecuador (neutral ground in Goiânia, Brazil)
Goals: Olmos, Letelier
Line-up: Cornez – Hisis, Gonzáles, Astengo, Reyes, Puebla – Olmos (Vera 62), Hurtado (Covarrubias 72), Pizarro – Letelier, Ramírez
25.07.1989: Chile 2-1 Peru
Goals: Aravena, Tudor
Line-up: Rojas – Hisis, Astengo, Gonzáles (Contreras), Reyes, Puebla – Pizarro, Aravena, Covarrubias – Letelier (Ramírez), Tudor
06.08.1989: Venezuela 1-3 Chile
Goals: Aravena (2), Zamorano
Line-up (4-3-3): Rojas (c) – Hisis, Astengo, Gonzáles, Puebla – Ormeño, Aravena, Pizarro – Yáñez, Rubio, Basay (Zamorano 60)
The Chileans did what was asked of them and returned from Caracas with both points. They were the better side in an eventful first half. Playmaker Aravena had struck twice, the latter a peach of a free-kick, though they came under pressure for the first half of the second period, and even saw the Venezuelans reduce the arrears. Substitute Zamorano impressed after replacing a poor Basay, and once he’d scored his team’s third, Chile were only prevented further goals by the hosts’ excellent goalkeeper.
13.08.1989: Chile 1-1 Brazil
Line-up (4-3-3): Rojas (c) – Hisis, Astengo, Gonzáles, Puebla – Ormeño, Aravena, Pizarro – Yáñez, Zamorano (Letelier 87), Rubio (Basay 59)
Just the one change in Chile’s starting line-up since last weekend: Zamorano in for Basay, like during their last game. Early controversy sees Ormeño sent off after Romário had walked for the visitors. Chile display plenty of passion, but little goal threat. Aravena is unable to replicate last week’s amazing free-kick goal despite three attempts. Gonzáles unfortunate to be credited with own goal, Chile fortunate not to be 2-0 down as Bebeto’s good goal was called off, and late on substitute Basay rescues a point as Aravena quickly picks the ball out of Taffarel’s hands to assist with indirect free-kick from close range.
27.08.1989: Chile 5-0 Venezuela (neutral ground in Mendoza, Argentina)
Goals: Letelier (3), Yáñez, Vera
Line-up (4-3-3): Rojas (c) – Hisis, Astengo (Contreras h-t), Gonzáles, Puebla – Pizarro, Aravena, Vera – Yáñez (Covarrubias 75), Letelier, Basay
Playing across the border in Argentina due to a punishment imposed on them by FIFA after the Brazil game, the Chileans could not quite get the desired scoreline, although a win by five clear goals is not a poor achievement in any international. They scored three times through stand-in striker Letelier, and with midfielder Vera, who was making his first appearance of the qualification, in scintillating form, especially after the half-time break, they could’ve added to their tally even further. They will now need to win in Brazil if they are to progress through to the World Cup.
03.09.1989: Brazil 1-0 Chile*
Line-up (4-4-2): Rojas (c) – Reyes (Basay 63), Astengo, Gonzáles, Puebla – Hisis, Pizarro, Aravena, Vera – Yáñez, Letelier
* later awarded by FIFA as a 2-0 win for the home side after the Chile team had walked off the pitch on 70 minutes
After failing to score a sufficient amount the previous week, Chile needed to win in the Maracanã to overtake Brazil in the final standings. Manager Aravena opted for different tactics this time around: a 4-4-2, with Hisis and Pizarro as holding midfielders. Reyes came in for his first appearance of the qualification at right-back, while Yáñez and Letelier were given the forward roles, attempting to seize the opportunity on the counter. Rojas made some fine first half stops, and then conceded early in the second half, before a five minute spell in which the visitors were on top. Then came the perverse moment of Rojas’ ‘injury’: A firecracker had been thrown on to the pitch, and he claimed to have been hit. His team mates carried him off and went into the dressing room with him, surely with the aim of forcing a replay, as the game was forfeited.
Chile, despite the sad shenanigans towards the end of their final qualifier, should be respected for the way they acquitted themselves on the pitch. They certainly had some quality in their ranks, and after what must have been a somewhat disappointing Copa América tournament, they battled well, perhaps at times even in a very direct sense of the word, against the mighty Brazilians.
Manager Orlando Aravena would have at his disposal for their first qualifier, the trip to Caracas to play group also-rans Venezuela, some of their Europe based players. The three forwards which started for the Chileans then, Patricio Yáñez, Hugo Rubio and Ivo Basay, had all flown across the Atlantic Ocean to play their part. They won less comprehensively than the Brazilians had done in the same stadium the week before, though that was pretty much down to Venezuela’s ‘keeper Baena, who had made several fine stops towards the latter stages.
The home clash with the Brazilians was almost war-like. The Colombian referee handed out a total of ten cards, of which two were red. While Brazil lost Romário as early as the second minute, Chile’s tenacious midfielder Raúl Ormeño followed suit before the quarter of an hour mark, after a horrific tackle against Branco. He was subsequently suspended for three matches, something which in practice turned out to mean that he never again would play a telling match for the national side. While Chile were fortunate to see a perfectly valid Brazil goal ruled out for 0-2, they got their late equalizer in debatable circumstances thanks to substitute Ivo Basay tucking away a close range indirect free-kick played quick into his path by Jorge Aravena.
Due to both on and off the field trouble as far as that home fixture against the Brazilians went, Chile had to play their final home qualifier out of the country. They opted for Mendoza in Argentina, approximately a three hour drive from Santiago, and in a game where they’d needed to win by a margin of eight clear goals in order to overtake Brazil on goal differene at the top of the group standings, they could ‘only’ muster a 5-0 outcome. Experienced striker Juan Carlos Letelier and lively midfielder Jaime Vera had both been brought into the starting eleven for the first time in this qualification, and both responded well: Letelier with a hat-trick, and Vera with a ‘Man of the Match’ performance.
This meant there was still all to play for as Chile paid Brazil and the famous Maracanã a visit on the final day of qualification. Once again they needed to make do without their Swiss based forward pairing of Iván Zamorano and Hugo Rubio, who did not make it back to South America in time to take part, and a change in formation saw Orlando Aravena opt for a more cautious approach in order to try and frustrate the hosts for as long as possible. They’d been hoping that Patricio Yáñez’ pace up top could cause the home defence some trouble, though they rarely got out from their own half during a first half in which they were indebted to captain and ‘keeper Roberto Rojas for performing admirably. Then they went behind early in the second half, and though they were briefly on top in the wake of Careca’s goal, they could not quite put Brazil to the sword. Ultimately, they embarrassed themselves by attempting to rescue their qualification campaign by claiming that Rojas had been injured by a flare thrown from the stands. It had all been play-acting. FIFA awarded Brazil the win, and Chile were duly punished. It was a grim end to a disappointing year in the history of ‘la Roja’.
Despite what had happened in Brazil, Chile had shown signs of being a talented side under Aravena’s tutelage. However, due to the ban which would soon be placed upon them by world football’s governing body FIFA, they would not get a chance to show this in the next World Cup qualification. Aravena resigned some ten days after the end of the qualification and before he had been handed his individual ban, and Rojas and libero Astengo would play no further part at international level following their respective bans. It sure was a sad end to what could otherwise have been regarded as a gallant attempt at reaching Italia ’90.
Final position: 2 (out of 3)
Total record: 4 2 1 1 9-4 5
Home record: 2 1 1 0 6-1 3
Away record: 2 1 0 1 3-3 2
Number of players used: 17
Number of players including unused substitutes: 20
Ever-presents (339 minutes): 6
Leading goalscorer: Juan Carlos Letelier (3)
Yellow/red cards: 7/1
– game by game
|Player||Ven (a)||Bra (h)||Ven (h)||Bra (a)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
Top three individual ratings:
1 Vera 8,5 vs Venezuela (h)
2 Letelier 8,1 vs Venezuela (h)
3 Aravena 7,7 vs Venezuela (a) and Venezuela (h), and Rojas vs Brazil (h)