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▶ Shocks that rocked South American qualifying [2023/11/20   ]

Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have fallen victims to some seismic upsets in FIFA World Cup qualifying – ones handed out by Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela.

- Paraguay 5-0 Uruguay

14 July 1957

Of the three World Cups they had entered – Uruguay didn’t participate in the 1934 and ’38 qualifiers – La Celeste had astonishingly won two and taken Puskas, Kocsis and the Magical Magyars to extra-time in the semi-finals in the other. They had won the previous year’s Copa America and were global goliaths. When the draw pitted them with Colombia and Paraguay, it was all but a given that Uruguay would cruise to a Scandinavian adventure.

Brazil 1950 winners William Martinez and Oscar Miguez travelled to Asuncion needing a point to leave themselves in pole position to punch Group 3’s ticket to Sweden 1958. Instead, they were knocked out by a 22-year-old winger. Florencio Amarilla, the owner of a ferocious shot, hit a hat-trick en route to a sensational 5-0 victory. Paraguay had qualified. Uruguay were out.

The aftermath

Paraguay fell in a really tough group at Sweden 1958, but went on to perform admirably. Amarilla scored twice in their opener, but Just Fontaine netted thrice to propel France to victory. La Albirroja then beat Scotland 3-2 and drew 3-3 with Yugoslavia, narrowly missing out on the knockout phase.

Did you know?

Amarilla went on to become an actor, specialising in Westerns. He starred in the films Conan the Barbarian, 100 Rifles and Patton, which won seven Oscars, and alongside the likes of Yul Brynner, James Earl Jones, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Raquel Welch.

- Bolivia 2-0 Brazil

25 July 1993

Brazil had never lost a World Cup qualifier. A first defeat had zero chance of happening at the 32nd time of asking. Their long list of victories over Bolivia had, after all, included scorelines such as 10-1, 8-0, 8-1 and 5-0.

‘The Devil’ was nevertheless ready to play Brazilian hangman. Marco Etcheverry had grown up a self-confessed “Brazil fanatic”, crying uncontrollably when they lost to Italy at Spain 1982, but a torn abductor muscle ruled him out Bolivia’s second Group B outing… or it least it should have. Etcheverry later confessed that his desperation to get Taffarel’s jersey at the final whistle prompted him to convince coach Xabier Azkargorta he was fit.

The Verde No10 must have regretted that decision when, after he craftily won a penalty, it was brilliantly saved by the Seleção No1. Etcheverry responded, however, by opening the scoring with two minutes remaining before Alvaro Pena sealed a stunning 2-0 victory over Cafu, Rai, Bebeto and Co.


The result helped Bolivia go to a first World Cup in 44 years and left Brazil needing to beat Uruguay in their final qualifier, which they achieved after Carlos Alberto Parreira ate humble pie and recalled riotous genius Romario. La Verde did themselves proud at USA 1994, losing 1-0 to defending champions Germany in their curtain-raiser and drawing with Korea Republic before a 3-1 loss to Spain. Brazil, who limped over the line in qualifying, went on to conquer the world at the Rose Bowl.

Did you know?

Etcheverry hated his nickname. “Everyone called me ‘The Devil’, but I didn’t like it at all,” he explained. “My whole family was religious – very religious. I felt ashamed when they heard people call me it.”

- Argentina 0-5 Colombia

5 September 1993

Victory, and Argentina were en route to USA ’94. Defeat, and they could, unthinkably, end up watching the World Cup from home. But that was never gonna happen, right? Argentina had reached the previous two finals, winning one, and had never lost a qualifier at home. With 75,000 roaring on Sergio Goycochea, Diego Simeone, Fernando Redondo, Gabriel Batistuta at the Monumental, a beatdown would be delivered.

It was, but it was stunningly Colombia who wore slaughterers’ capes. Los Cafeteros were breathtaking, with Carlos Valderrama’s passing and Faustino Asprilla’s sorcery utterly indecipherable to their thunderstruck victims. The saving grace for Argentina was that Paraguay could only draw against a Peru side that had previously taken zero points from a possible 15, sending Alfio Basile’s men into an intercontinental play-off against Australia, which they won. Still, La Albiceleste have never suffered a heavier loss in their 121-year history.


Despite flickering their class, a 2-0 defeat by Bulgaria saw Argentina finish third in Group D, before they lost 3-2 to Romania in a last-16 thriller. Pele tipped Colombia to win USA 1994. By contrast, despite a 2-0 win over Switzerland, they finished bottom of Group A.

Did you know?

El Gráfico, the esteemed Argentinian sports magazine, published a black cover with no background images the day after the game. Its headline read “Vergüenza” (Shame).

- Ecuador 1-0 Brazil

28 March 2001

Ecuador had never beaten Brazil in almost 60 years of trying. They’d lost 18 and drawn two of their 20 encounters, conceding almost four goals per game on average. Four or more in Quito was perfectly plausible for Ronaldinho Gaucho, Juninho Paulista, Rivaldo, Romario and Co.

This version of La Tri was, however, significantly superior to any of its predecessors. Jose Cevallos and Ivan Hurtado were inerrable defensively, Ulises de la Cruz bubbled down the right, Alex Aguinaga cast spells in the playmaker’s cape, and Ivan Kaviedes and Agustin Delgado terrorised Lucio and Roque Junior. After ‘El Nine’ Kaviedes had hit the crossbar with a lob, his mercurial dribble set up ‘Tin’ Delgado for the only goal.

“In the first half we showed them a lot of respect, because Brazil are Brazil,” explained midfielder Juan Carlos Burbano. “But at half-time we said, ‘Now’s the time to show them no respect at all.’ We went out, took the game to them and won.”

The aftermath
The seismic upset pumped belief into Ecuadorian veins. They went on to lose just one of their remaining seven qualifiers, finish second and reach their first World Cup, at which they beat Croatia but suffered group-stage elimination. Brazil had been relaxing in second, but the knockdown trembled their campaign. The Seleção nevertheless went on to sneak through to Korea/Japan 2002 on the final day and, indebted to returning Ronaldo, conquer a fifth star.

Did you know?

‘Bam Bam’ Hurtado played 73 World Cup qualifiers – a global record. He is followed by Paulo da Silva (66), Diego Godin (65), Claudio Bravo (64), Luis Suarez (62), Maynor Figueroa (60) and Lionel Messi (60).

- Uruguay 0-3 Venezuela

31 March 2004

It took Venezuela 36 years to beat Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier. It came at home in Maracaibo, against injury-stricken adversaries, facilitated by a red card in 2001. Against 40,000-plus fanatics at the Estadio Centenario a few years later, and an attack comprising Alvaro Recoba, Javier Chevanton and Diego Forlan, nobody gave them a chance.

The mis-match everyone foresaw unfolded, but it was the boys in red-wine coloured jerseys who dominated their illustrious opponents. Gabriel Urdaneta hit a brilliant opener, ‘El Turbo’ Gonzalez added a second and Juan Arango sealed an earth-shaking victory during which the overwhelmingly outnumbered Venezuelans could be heard roaring ‘olé, olé’ as their idols made helpless Uruguayans look like cones on a practice pitch.

“Venezuela exists!” bellowed coach Richard Paez post-match. “This is for 36 years of humiliation. We beat two-time world champions at a stadium as historic as the Centenario. This is an unparalleled victory in Venezuelan football history.”


Venezuela produced their hitherto best-ever campaign, though it was insufficient to get them close to a ticket to Germany 2006. Recoba flicked home the only goal against Argentina to snatch Uruguay an intercontinental play-off, only for them to fall victims to another upset: a penalty-shootout loss to Australia.

Did you know?

The match instantly became known as ‘El Centenariazo’. One Uruguayan newspaper’s headline read “To Death” the following day.

- Bolivia 6-1 Argentina

1 April 2009

People could have been forgiven for assuming the scoreline was an April Fool's Day joke, but ‘The Massacre of La Paz’ was fact on the first day of 2009’s fourth month. Javier Zanetti, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi suffered what remains Argentina’s joint-heaviest all-time defeat as a Joaquin Botero hat-trick left them facing an uphill struggle to reach South Africa 2010.

“Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart,” said coach Diego Maradona. “If you’d told me we’d lose 6-1, I would have told you it was impossible.”

The aftermath

Erwin Sanchez saw his side’s qualification hopes shattered by four successive losses. Argentina went into their final preliminary fixture – against Uruguay at the Centenario no less – needing to win to make sure of a World Cup place. After Celeste defender Martin Caceres was sent off, substitute Mario Bolatti stole La Albiceleste victory late on. Argentina then impressed at global finals until they were thumped 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals.

Did you know?

It took Bolivia 37 years of playing Argentina to register their sixth goal against them in 1963. La Verde scored six times in just 75 minutes against Maradona’s men. While Argentinian spearhead Lionel Messi was the highest-paid footballer on the planet at the time, his Bolivian counterpart Botero was based with Correcaminos in Mexico’s second tier.

- The origianl text resource is from FIFA Official Website

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