The Final Group. Same formula – two games per day, one after another on the same stadium. But it was Rio de Janeiro and Maracana now and what a difference: massive attendance and festive crowds. The final group had the perfect making: 4 old rivals with enormous history, tradition, pride and tension. And because of that it was hard to predict results. It was also hard to expect high quality football too, because battle traditionally was the first rule of the old derbies.
Uruguay – Paraguay 3-0.
In front of 60 000 Uruguay destroyed their neighbours. No miracle happened – Uruguay was now serious, solid, determined and class showed itself. Francescoli scored a penalty in the 28th minute and late in the second half scored two more goals: Alzamendi in the 82nd minute and Paz in the 89th. Great start for the reigning continental champions and looked like Paraguay was not going to be a factor in the final stage.
Brazil – Argentina 2-0.
110 000 attended the clash between the teams many considered the strongest candidates for the title. Battle is battle, but this match was perhaps more important for another reason: attitudes. Looked like Lazaroni discovered his best team in blessed Recife: Taffarel was constant of course, Aldair-Ricardo Gomes-Mauro Galvao-Branco in defense; Mazinho-Dunga-Silas-Valdo in midfield; Bebeto-Romario in attack. 4-4-2. Bilardo, however, continued to tinker with the team – true, there were constantly players under suspension for receiving red cards, but as a whole the team was not playing well. Bilardo himself appeared to be not serious enough and some changes seemed to be trying variety rather than looking for the best formation. Pumpido was between the posts, instead of Islas tried in earlier games; Clausen-Brown-Ruggeri-Sensini in defense this time; Basualdo-Batista-Troglio-Burruchaga in midfield; Calderon-Maradona in attack. Caniggia – on the bench. During the match Lazaroni fielded usual substitutes: Alemao for Silas and Renato for Romario, but Bilardo once again tried something different: Caniggia replaced Burruchaga and unusued so far Guisti replaced Calderon. Tough match against foxy opponents, but the replaced suggested general failure, for both were key players. Brazil, massively supported by the stands, eventually took control and finally proved Lazaroni right: Bebeto scored the first goal in the 48th minute and Romario made it 2-0 in the 55th minute. Bebeto’s goal was a beauty – an attack started by Silas, continued with clever backpass by Romario and excellently finished by Bebeto. After the match Maradona went to congratulate Bebeto for the beautiful goal and gave him his shirt in appreciation.
Uruguay – Argentina 2-0.
The second clash between the oldest rivals took place in front of 45 000.
It turned out to be a vicious fight – nothing new really, but contrary to the photo, Argentina was main culprit. Even fierce kickers like team Uruguay were surprised by the level of violence reached by their enemies. Like in their first clash, the Argentines played considerable time with 10 men – Ruggeri was redcarded in the 54th minute. At that moment Uruguay was leading 1-0 – Sosa scored in the 38th minute – and in the remaining time they took full revenge for the loss in the opening stage: Sosa scored again in the 81st minute. Thus Uruguay finished this session with their arch-enemies, in the same time ending whatever hopes the world champions entertained for winning Copa America. Uruguay was on the road to win the tournament for third consecutive time. Once again Bilardo made changes in his squad, starting with Pumpido between the goalposts, Clausen-Ruggeri-Cuciuffo-Sensini in defense; Basualdo-Batista-Troglio-Burruchaga in midfield and Calderon-Maradona in attack. Later Balbo replaced Cuciuffo and Gorosito – Burruchaga. Looked like Bilardo was repeating the mistakes of Lazaroni in the first stage: using some players, no matter how consistently disappointing they were, and rather desperately fielding substitutes in hope of miracle than anything else. In sharp contrast, Tabarez used the same team from start, making only tactical internal changes, tailored to meet specific opponent.
Brazil – Paraguay 3-0.
In front of 64 500 Brazil was finally flying and Bebeto established himself as the hero of the tournament. It was a matter of class – the Paraguayans were mostly fighters, the Brazilians had superior skills. Bebeto gave Brazil the lead by scoring a penalty in the 16th minute. Then he made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute and seven minutes later Romario sealed the victory. Thus Brazil was a prime candidate to win Copa America and Paraguay was eliminated.
Argentina – Paraguay 0-0.
The formula of two games in the same day and same venue continued to the end. It was hard for the teams playing the second game for the day, for the pitch was in very bad shape, but this rule perhaps contributed for the high attendance at the ‘small’ final – 90 000 came, most of them most likely buying tickets for both matches and staying to watch the final as well. Because of that the high attendance was misleading in terms of the ‘small final’: it was not important for either opponent. Bilardo used again changed squad without Maradona. Caniggia was out too – somewhat strangely he practically did not play in the final stage – only 35 minutes as substitute against Brazil. For this match Bilardo chose Pumpido; Clausen-Sensini-Monzon-Diaz; Giusti-Basualdo-Burruchaga-Troglio; Calderon-Balbo. During the match Gorosito replaced Clausen and Alfaro Moreno – Calderon. Whatever Bilardo was doing it did not appear to be meaningful shaping or experimenting. Rather, fielding some players depending on their desire to play (Maradona most likely did not want to play against Paraguay) and giving some time to those who otherwise will idle on the bench wandering why they are wasting their time in Brazil. Eduardo Manera was restricted by the limited pool of players Paraguay had, so he had to field his regulars again, but motivation was lacking. Both teams went through the motions, impatient to hear the final whistle and go home. If there were bronze medals, the end of the match would have been ‘gentlemanly’ and both teams would get those medals, for they finished with exactly the same records. A final sour note: Bilardo’s Argentina was never a team scoring many goals by design, but in this tournament they produced a total of 2 goals. Scored nothing in the final stage. It was not only disappointment for the fans, but also suggested big troubles in the future – reigning world champions with Maradona in front able to score only 2 goals in 7 games! And both goals scored by Caniggia, who was not even used in the final stage! Something Bilardo to think about. Maradona too.
Brazil – Uruguay 1-0.
The design of the tournament was somewhat prohibitive for a grand finale – a round robin design is somewhat anticlimaxing, for the last match could be entirely formal. Certainly the first match of the day was exactly that: Argentina and Paraguay had nothing to play for and demotivated they provided no entertainment for the fans. Luckily, the last match turned out to be a real final: both finalists with exactly same record – with 2 wins and 5-0 goal-difference each. A draw was out of the question – it was only a battle for a win. A lazy approach was impossible; tactical game for a tie was also impossible. Of course, excitement was high, hopes were high, the spectre of the 1950 World Cup final came back – Brazil vs Uruguay on Maracana, the winner takes it all and if Brazil lost… suicides on the streets. 170 000 attended – and that at the end of the 1980s, a decade witnessing steadily decreasing attendance. So much was at stake, but mostly the pressure was on Brazil and Lazaroni. The stakes were so high that quality of football was not even interesting – it was all about winning, no matter how. Both coaches made no changes, fielding their tried and established squads. Tabarez, though, adjusted internally his playing scheme, as he did for every match before – something not showing on mere statistical listing. Mainly, it was the role assigned to Francescoli – depending on the opponent, he was either striker of midfielder. Against Brazil he was moved back to midfield again to control and shape the Uruguayan game. Alzamendi and Sosa were the strikers.
16.07.89 Río de Janeiro, Maracaná
BRA – URU 1:0 (0:0)
(170,000) Hernán Silva CHI, Vincent Mauro USA, Marín CHI
BRA: Taffarel – Aldair, Ricardo Gomes, Mauro Galvão, Branco – Mazinho, Dunga, Silas
(85 Alemão), Valdo (86 Josimar) – Bebeto, Romário
URU: Zeoli – Herrera, Gutiérrez, De León, Domínguez – Ostolaza (69 Correa), Perdomo, Paz
(69 Da Silva), Francéscoli – Alzamendi, Sosa
1:0 Romário 49 h
Of course, the final was tough, but not very vicious – at least, when compared to some previous games, particularly the clashes between Argentina and Uruguay. Scoring opportunities were few and difficult to come by, yet, both teams had to score – the pressure perhaps made it even more difficult to create opportunities.
Yet, Brazil got a chance in the 49th minute and Romario did not miss it. It was a lead both great and fragile, so the fans were on edge to the end, but no other goals were scored.
Brazil triumphed in front of jubilant mass of supporters.
One could easily imagine the vibrant and limitless Brazilian joy,
which immediately transformed the villain into hero. It would be safe to say that Lazaroni was the happiest man in Brazil, after so much criticism and hatred hurled at him.
And that was that…
1. BRA 3 6 3 0 0 6-0
2. URU 3 4 2 0 1 5-1
3. ARG 3 1 0 1 2 0-5
4. PAR 3 1 0 1 2 0-5
Of course, the winners deserve one more picture. It was very memorable and important victory – Brazil won Copa America for the first time since 1949! Hard to believe, but the most successful country on the world stage was almost a pariah in South America dominated by Uruguay and Argentina – this was only the 4th South American title for Brazil and they had to wait 40 years for it! It was also the first major competition Brazil won after 1970 – again, success was badly needed, for it was becoming something achieved in the increasingly distant past. Finally, Brazil was back at its rightful place – at least in the minds of the passionate Brazilians.