A World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina was suspended after Brazilian health officials objected to the participation of four Argentine players they say broke quarantine rules.
Just minutes after kickoff on Sunday at Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo, officials entered the pitch to stop the game, prompting players from Argentina to walk off the pitch.
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“The referee and the match official will take a report to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and they will decide what steps to take,” a statement issued by CONMEBOL read.
In a subsequent statement, FIFA said it “confirm that following a decision by the match officials, the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying match Brazil vs. Argentina has been suspended. Further details will follow in due course.”
Following the match, Brazilian health authority Anvisa released a statement in which they declared the situation was “a serious health risk” and “for this reason, local health authorities ordered to immediately quarantine the players.”
“After a meeting with the health authorities it was decided that, after checking the passports of the four players involved, the players did not comply with the rules of entry into Brazilian soil,” the statement read. “Travellers who have been in the UK, South Africa, Northern Ireland and India are not allowed in Brazil.
“The players in question declared not to have passed through any of the countries with restrictions in the past 14 days. They arrived in Brazil via a flight from Caracas in Venezuela, destined for Garulhos.
“However, unofficial news reached Anvisa reporting allegedly false statements made by the travellers.”
The players went to the dressing room, although the two coaches, along with Argentina captain Lionel Messi and Brazilian players, gathered at the side of the pitch a few moments later to discuss the stoppage.
“Why did they start the game and stop it after five minutes?” Messi said in comments heard on television. “We’ve been here at the stadium for an hour, they could have told us.”
Messi then returned to the dressing room, and at 5 p.m. local time, an hour after the game kicked off, the match was officially suspended.
Brazilian Football Confederation president Ednaldo Rodrigues said he was “indignant” with the scenes that reverberated around the football world.
He criticised Brazilian health regulator Anvisa and said officials told him the Argentine players who breached the country’s COVID-19 rules could have been deported after the game.
“I feel sorry for all the sports fans who wanted to watch the game on television,” he told Brazil’s Sportv. “With all due respect to Anvisa, they could have resolved this earlier and not waited for the game to start.”
Argentina’s FA expressed its “discomfort” over the situation, adding that “football should not have to go through these type of incidents that go against the sporting spirit of such an important competition.”
A shellshocked Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni agreed.
“It makes me so sad, I am not looking for guilty parties, whatever happened or didn’t happen, this wasn’t the time to do it,” he told Argentine broadcaster TyC Sports.
“We wanted to enjoy a game between the best in the world and it ends up like this.”
“As a coach I am going to defend my players. If people come and say we want to take this guy or deport this guy there was no chance of that,” he said. “Because at no time were we told we couldn’t play the game.”
The incident occurred just hours after Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, said four Argentine players must isolate and could not play in the match. The four Argentine players — Emiliano Buendia and Emiliano Martinez of Aston Villa, and Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero of Tottenham Hotspur — play in England’s Premier League.
Under Brazilian rules, visitors who have been in the U.K. in the 14 days before entering the country must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Anvisa was tipped off that the four did not state that information on their immigration forms, and on Sunday said they confirmed the details given were “false.”
“Anvisa considers the situation a serious health risk and so has asked local health authorities to determine the immediate quarantine of the players, who are stopped from participating in any activity and should be prevented from remaining on Brazilian soil,” Anvisa said in a statement.
Nevertheless, no action was taken and the four players were allowed to travel with the Argentine team from the hotel to the stadium. Martinez, Lo Celso and Romero were in the starting lineup.
The confusion comes amid continuing anger in South America over rules that have disallowed several teams from using key players for this month’s three World Cup qualifiers.
Brazil are without nine key men for the Argentina game, and other South American sides have also lost players due to a decision by some European clubs not to let their players travel to the continent.
They would have to quarantine on return, and the clubs do not want to lose their players for subsequent league games.
Aston Villa said Buendia and Martinez had agreed to return to their club after the Brazil game and will miss Argentina’s game against Bolivia on Tuesday. Martinez and Romero had also played in Argentina’s 3-1 win over Venezuela last week.
Brazil currently lead the South American qualifying group for Qatar 2022, six points ahead of second-place Argentina. The top four qualify automatically for Qatar.