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 – Reyes, L Contreras, Gonzáles, Puebla – Hisis, Ormeño (Hurtado 63), Vera (Letelier 55), Pizarro – Olmos, Covarrubias
06.07.1989: Uruguay 3-0 Chile (neutral ground in Goiânia, Brazil)
Line-up: Rojas – Reyes, L Contreras, Gonzáles, Puebla – Olmos, Hisis, Pizarro – Hurtado, 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 (4-3-3): 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 – Reyes, Astengo, Gonzáles, Puebla – Olmos (Vera 62), Hisis, Pizarro – Ramírez, Letelier, Hurtado (Covarrubias 72)
25.07.1989: Chile 2-1 Peru
Goals: Aravena, Tudor
Line-up: Rojas – Reyes, Astengo, Gonzáles (Contreras), Puebla – Pizarro, Hisis, Aravena – Letelier (Ramírez), Tudor, Covarrubias