There is always the first time in life – at times they come as pleasant surprise while at times, they leave a long-lasting scar in the heart and mind. The surprise is the spice of life and lifeblood of sports – football, in particular, just does not get better when the surprising element is missing.

Back on July 25, 1993, when Bolivia shocked Brazil at Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz in the World Cup Qualifiers for USA 94 – the footballing world was spiced up. Back in Rio de Janerio, anger and frustration were at their peak, but in Bolivia, it was a party.

For the first time in their World Cup Qualifying history, Brazil had been beaten – neither by Argentina nor by Uruguay, but by a team, who were always regarded as a jolly-bash for the Selecao.

The 1993 playoffs were the last South American qualifiers in a format other than the current one.

Chile were suspended, so the remaining 9 teams, divided into two independent groups, would fight for 3.5 places in the United States 1994.

In Group B Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia lived together.

The latter two were facing La Paz for the second date of the competition that awarded two direct places for the final phase of North America.

The captains and match officials before the start of match. Image Courtesy: FIFA
The captains and match officials before the start of match. Image Courtesy: FIFA

In Group A, the latter should face Australia in a repechage.

In the opening day, Bolivia provided an offensive football demonstration by beating Venezuela 7–1 in Puerto Ordaz.

The second engagement would be at La Paz against Brazil, which had drawn 0-0 in Ecuador on the first date and boasted an unbeaten record.

They faced the best generation of Bolivian footballers in history with the squad led by Claudio Taffarel, Rai, and Bebeto.

Bebeto in action. Image Courtesy: Los Tiempos
Bebeto in action. Image Courtesy: Los Tiempos

Supported by a crowd and dressed in white, Azkargorta’s squadron went out to fight its match against Carlos Alberto Parreira’s men.

The high altitude would be a big challenge for the Selecao, but still, they were Brazil, and such challenges should not halt their progress.

Bolivia controlled the match.

Brazil chased shadows.

Brazil’s nature of playing football clashed with the midfield category of Milton Melgar, Julio César Valdivieso, Marco Etcheverry, and Erwin Sanchez. The main emotions would come in the add-on: Sanchez had a golden chance to open the score with a penalty kick, but Taffarel blocked the punch with his legs. His luck would change at the close of the match.

Etcheverry celebrates after scoring the goal. Image Courtesy: Los Tiempos
Etcheverry celebrates after scoring the goal. Image Courtesy: Los Tiempos

When the clock was dying, Etcheverry received a long pass and stacked several players on the left. The Devil delayed the resolution and ran out of angle, so he decided to send a ground center in the search for a companion. His finisher went straight to Taffarel, who starred in a real accident when he bounced the ball to the bottom of his own goal with his foot.

Bolivia 1 Brazil 0.

The explosion of Hernando Siles had not yet silenced its echoes when Brazil left with everything in search of a tie.

Alvaro Pena, entered in the 57th minute, received a brilliant pass from Etcheverry to face and beat Taffarel again with a dry right leg footline.

Bolivia 2 Brazil 0.

Brazil suffered the first defeat in the history of the contest, while Bolivia unleashed the largest sporting festival ever recorded.

The victory was a fantasy made real, a little fellow bringing down a giant. Bolivians are not a different a species than their Brazilian neighbors, but in population, terms are outnumbered 23 times over.

Back home, Parreira was blasted. The passionate fans started to lose faith in Brazil, and ultimately Brazil qualified for the World Cup, and guess what, they broke the jinx of 24 years by lifting the trophy for the fourth time.

For Bolivia, the USA 94 journey ended in disgrace.

There would be no adventure.

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