For the second World Cup qualification running, there would be an intercontinental play-off final in order to decide which confederation would take the final slot available. Four years earlier, Europe had battled it out with Oceania, and Scotland had overcome Australia with 2-0 at home and then 0-0 away to progress through to Mexico ’86. This time around, it was Oceania again in the thick of the action, though adversaries would be a South American nation.
South America (CONMEBOL) had just three secure berths in the Italia ’90 World Cup available to them: One already had reigning champions Argentina’s name on it, while the other two were given to qualification group winners Uruguay (Group 1) and Brazil (Group 3). Right in the wake of the World Cup qualification draw, it had been arranged for the CONMEBOL Group 2 winners that they would enter the intercontinental play-offs rather than qualify directly. Thus, it was said that CONMEBOL had available to them 3,5 World Cup slots at the start of the qualification.
Likewise, the Oceania confederation (OFC) had 0,5 berths available to them at the start of the qualification, meaning they were, again, in no way guaranteed a World Cup place for either of their five contestants. With Australia and New Zealand both winning first round double-headers to progress through to the OFC qualification group stage, they were contesting along with Israel, who had received a first round bye, for the right to represent OFC in the intercontinental play-offs.
The OFC section was the first to complete its qualification tournament: On 16 April 1989, Australia and Israel drew 1-1 in Sydney, something which decided that Israel progressed through to the next phase. The round-robin formatted qualification tournament had been a relatively close contest, emphasized by the winners’ 1-3-0 record.
More than four months later, on 20 August, would CONMEBOL Group 2 get under way. Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay would fight it out between them according to the same round-robin principles which the OFC zone had worked under. Early pace setters were Paraguay, who won their first two matches, both at home, and with Colombia only boasting a 1-1-1 record from their first three matches, the pressure was on them to deliver with Paraguay visiting Barranquilla on 17 September. Having been a goal down at half-time, a shrewd double-substitution for the start of the second half would turn the tide in the hosts’ favour. Colombia won the game 2-1, but were still in need of Paraguay to slip up in Ecuador in the final tie of the group. Ecuador won 3-1 in the group’s conclusive match on 24 September, and Colombia could breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing that it would be they who would represent CONMEBOL at the intercontinental play-offs a month later.
Estadio Metropolitano, Barranquilla
The first leg of the intercontinental play-offs turned out to be, as had probably been expected, a pretty one-sided affair. The home side took a few minutes to compose themselves, but from then on, they were always dominant. The Israelis had arrived with a very defensive mind-set, as they had proved in their final group stage game that they could repel attacks, and then mount a threat on the break through their pace up top. Colombia’s little one-twos were neat to watch, but against a sturdy defence such as Israel’s, it rarely took them inside the area. Redín tested Ginzburg with a left-footed effort from 26 yards, but for all their possession, that was as close as Colombia got during the first half. They scrapped their starting 4-1-1-2-2 formation for 4-3-3 at the start of the second half, when winger Usuriaga was brought on. The lanky right-sided man won the hosts the fixture with a composed finish from inside the area after a terrific Fajardo assist. Israel did not look too disspirited having lost by a single goal. Everything indeed to play for in the return leg.
Ramat Gan International Stadium, Tel Aviv
Having arrived in The Middle East, with a slender lead to protect, the Colombians play with little fear, and there’s no apparent nerves within their ranks. The situation seems to be slightly different among the home side’s players, as the Israelis cannot get going in the early passages of play. The visitors dominate possession, and they have once again packed their midfield, where their players demonstrate accurate passing. Colombia also make sure not to leave space at the back for Israel’s quick breaks, and only really once during the opening half does Rosenthal threaten with his pace. He creates the best opportunity of the opening 45 minutes when he makes it to the byline and sets Tikva up for a huge shooting chance from around the penalty spot – wide. Through their dominance in possession, the visiting South Americans do manage to take the sting out of the game.
The hosts apply long spells of second half pressure, and they do look improved once they have Ohana on for Levin. Rosenthal arrives at a massive opportunity on 52 minutes, but can only sidefoot into Higuita’s arms. Tikva has a fine left-footed effort from just outside the area, and Sinai later strikes a free-kick against the outside of the post. One could not fault the hosts for effort, but Colombia defend astoutedly, and also have a couple of opportunities of their own, when half-time substitute Usuriaga hits the post with an effort from inside the area, and Iguarán goes close with a drive. Upon the full-time whistle, the Israeli players are distraught, as Colombia can celebrate the scoreless draw knowing it has taken them through to next year’s World Cup.