The meeting on 25 July 1993 of Bolivia and Brazil was that of an irresistible force coming up against an immovable object. Something had to give.
La Verde had never qualified for the finals of a FIFA World Cup™ but were determined to put that right ahead of USA 1994, while Brazil had yet to taste defeat in a South American qualifier and were in no mood to relinquish that proud record.
As history now shows, the delirious home supporters in La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles witnessed the finest ever Bolivian side inflict a historic defeat on a Brazil team that would be crowned world champions 12 months later. FIFA.com recalls that watershed moment in South American football.
25 July 1993, Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz
Bolivia 2-0 Brazil
Goals: Marco Etcheverry 88, and Alvaro Pena 89.
Bolivia: Trucco; Rimba, Quinteros, Sandy, Borja; Cristaldo, Melgar, Valdivieso, Sanchez; Etcheverry and Ramallo
Coach: Xabier Azkargorta
Brazil: Taffarel; Cafu, Valber, Marcio Santos, Leonardo; Mauro Silva, Luis Enrique, Zinho, Rai; Bebeto and Muller
Coach: Carlos Parreira
The 1993 edition of the South American qualifiers was the last before the introduction of the single-group format currently in use. With Chile suspended at the time, the remaining nine teams were split into two groups to battle it our for the region’s 3.5 places at USA 1994.
Group B, containing Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia, offered finals’ berths for the top two, while the four-team Group A had one automatic place for the winner and a playoff berth against Australia for the runner-up.
One matchday 1, Bolivia gave a masterclass in attacking football to brush aside Venezuela 7-1 in Puerto Ordaz. Their second assignment was a home tie in La Paz against the Auriverde, who had drawn 0-0 with Ecuador on the opening matchday and had never lost a World Cup qualifier.
The meeting brought together the finest generation of Bolivian footballers and a Seleção marshalled by the likes of Claudio Taffarel, Rai and Bebeto.
Bolivia knew they would have to make the most of home advantage if they were to grace a third FIFA World Cup finals – they had previously been invited to participate in the 1930 and 1950 editions. With this in mind, Azkargorta’s charges, wearing white for the game, ran out to face Parreira’s counterparts roared on by a packed house in La Paz.
The visitors tried to take the momentum out of the home side’s play with their trademark passing and ball control, but they had not bargained on a formidable midfield of Milton Melgar, Julio Cesar Valdivieso, Marco Etcheverry and Erwin Sanchez. For all that, the key moments did not arrive until the second half, when Sanchez had a golden opportunity to put Bolivia ahead from the spot, only to see Taffarel block the effort with his legs. The Brazilian keeper would not be as fortunate the next time.
With just two minutes left on the clock, Etcheverry ran onto a short pass in midfield, before powering past several players down the left inside channel. Then just when it looked like El Diablo had taken it too far, he swung in a low speculative cross from the byline that Taffarel let slip between his legs and deflected into the net.
The ecstatic crowd at the Hernando Siles were still celebrating a minute later as Brazil threw men forward in search of an equaliser. However, with minimal cover at the back, Bolivia would punish them dearly. Alvaro Pena, a second-half substitute, latched onto a brilliant ball from Etcheverry down the left, before bearing down on goal and side-footing a right-foot shot past Taffarel from the edge of the six-yard box. Moments later, the final whistle blew to confirm Brazil’s first ever qualifying defeat and start one of biggest sporting celebrations in Bolivia’s history.
That evening, like so many others in the history of Bolivian football, belonged to their legendary No. 10, Marco Etcheverry. El Diablo (The Devil), still a long-haired 22-year-old, proved a nightmare for the Brazilian defence and crowned an unforgettable display with two of the game’s pivotal moves: the powerful run and cross that squirmed across the line for the opening goal, and the sumptuous assist he made for the second. And all while playing with a torn muscle for most of the game.
“That last-minute goal against Brazil was one of the high points of my career. I remember tearing an abductor muscle after just ten minutes but decided to play on. Still, it was worth my while in the end. I mean, if I’d gone off, who was going to get us a goal? It’s conceivable we wouldn’t have qualified for that World Cup. It was one of the most beautiful evenings of my life.”
Bolivia midfielder Marco Etcheverry.
What Happened Next…
That 2-0 victory provided an invaluable morale boost to Bolivia en route to USA 1994. Azkargorta’s side won all their games on home soil, securing their finals berth on 19 September 1993 with a 1-1 draw against Ecuador in Quito. Brazil, for their part, exacted revenge over La Verde with a 6-0 drubbing in Recife, before securing top spot and a place at the finals thanks to a 2-0 win over Uruguay on the final matchday.
Thus Bolivia celebrated their first qualification for a FIFA World Cup, but their joy was short-lived. The team bowed out after the first round in the USA and have not been back at football’s premier event since. A Seleção, by contrast, duly claimed their fourth world title after beating Italy in a penalty shootout in the Final.