Oceania – group 14. The weakest continent, which did not have designated spot at the finals as usual. Perhaps not fair, from Australian point of view, but objectively speaking only Australia and New Zealand were there and both countries ranked very lowly in the football scale. It was even difficult to have meaningful qualifications in this group. And because of that Israel was placed in this group – a fantastic combination, but Israel, expelled from Asia for many years, was homeless team and out of desperation FIFA attached it to tiny Oceania. Three teams, having to fly literally half the planet for away match. At least all participants were able to afford such spending, which was not the last either – the winner of Oceania had to play further qualification playoff against the winner of South American Group B. Really, a team of this group would hope only on miracle to qualify them to the World Cup finals and only the fact that all participants were wealthy countries made them play under such difficult and expensive circumstances.
1.Israel 4 1 3 0 5- 4 5
Israel won the group and rightly so, for they had a few players well established in European professional football and there opponents entirely lacked professional stars. The ugly face of 1980s football showed itself as well: in the last and decisive group game in Sydney, the Israelis were shocked by hostile Australian fans waiving banners with Nazi swastikas. Yet, team Israel extracted 1-1 draw and left Australia triumphal.
2.Australia 4 1 2 1 6- 5 4
Here is the Australian team unable to beat Israel in Sydney and thus finishing second. Hopes for second World Cup appearance ended, but nothing really surprising: Australia perhaps had better football in 1989 than in 1974, but still it was lowly level and the team was nothing much.
3.New Zealand 4 1 1 2 5- 7 3
Among the weak, they were weakest – even the empty stands show it. Well, it is rugby world ‘down there’. New Zealand manage to win their home match against Australia – 2-0 – which was a matter of local pride and to a point blocked Australia from going ahead, but that was all.
Israel won the group of Oceania and had to meet the winner of South American Group B next. Colombia. Up and coming Colombia, led by Carlos Valderrama and the first leg was in Bogota.
Team Israel put a good fight, but lost 0-1. The minimal loss gave them a strong chance, but only a chance: the result is somewhat misleading – and repeated in later years. South Americans often underestimated their opponents from ‘undeveloped’ continents and suffered as a result. Nobody could deny that team Israel did their best, but also it was certain that Colombia was the stronger team by far. Two weeks later in Ramat Gan Israel was unable to beat the Colombians – the visitors extracted a 0-0 draw and reached the World Cup finals. As a whole, Israel had strong campaign, but difference of class won at the end.
And with that the qualifications came to end – 22 teams were going to Italy in the next year: Romania, Sweden, England, USSR, Austria, the Netherlands, West Germany, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Spain, Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, USA, Egypt, Cameroon, South Korea, and United Arab Emirates. Host Italy and reigning World Champion Argentina completed the finalists. Meantime, Communism was rapidly collapsing in Europe and the rapid political changes already made a tricky situation – it was not all that certain that some countries will be in 1990 and what could be the new European map. Germany unified by the end of 1989 and there was no more West Germany – at the finals Germany was going to play. USSR and Yugoslavia gave strong signs of falling apart and even if full disintegration would not happen, at least it was becoming clear that their national teams will be weakened with players refusing to play for them for nationalistic reasons. The old order was collapsing and football was affected by that. At least for Europe, it was the last year and qualifications of ‘classic’ small Europe – soon it will be vastly enlarged with teams of old, but not recognized in football terms, and newly made countries. Changes were taking place in the whole football world – 1989 was, in a sense, the last year of ‘stable and familiar’ football globe.