Brazil-Argentina WC qualifier suspended

SAO PAULO, Sept. 6: Brazil’s home World Cup qualifier against Argentina was suspended on Sunday after four players from the visiting team were accused of breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Officials from Brazilian health regulator Anvisa walked onto the Corinthians Arena pitch seven minutes after kickoff to order the game be halted.

According to the government agency, Premier League players Emiliano Martinez, Giovani Lo Celso, Cristian Romero and Emiliano Buendia failed to comply with entry regulations for travelers.

Rules introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 prohibit non-Brazilians from entering the country if they have passed through the United Kingdom, South Africa, Northern Ireland and India in the past 14 days.

In a statement issued hours before the match, Anvisa accused the players of providing false information on immigration forms and ordered them to self-isolate immediately.

“Anvisa considers the situation a serious health risk, and therefore advised the local health authorities to determine the immediate quarantine of players, who are prevented from participating in any activity and should not remain in Brazilian territory,” the agency said.

Martinez, Lo Celso and Romero were on the pitch when the match was interrupted while Buendia was watching from the stands, having missed a place in Argentina’s match day squad.

Players and coaches from both teams, including Argentina captain Lionel Messi and Brazil star Neymar, spoke at length with the Anvisa officials after play was stopped.

Messi was heard asking why the fixture was allowed to start if officials already knew of the protocol breach.

By then, most of his teammates were already in the locker rooms and the game was officially suspended almost an hour after the interruption. Brazil’s players remained on the pitch throughout and later took part in an impromptu training session.

It was not immediately clear if the qualifier would be rescheduled.

“The referee and the match official will take a report to the FIFA disciplinary committee and they will decide what steps to take,” the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said in a statement.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni echoed Messi sentiments, questioning why officials had decided to wait until the game started to take action. Argentina arrived in Brazil on Friday.

“It makes me very sad. I’m not looking for any culprits. Irrespective of whether or not there was any wrongdoing, it was not the time to make that intervention,” Scaloni said.

“It should have been a match to be enjoyed by everyone, a chance to see the best players in the world. I would like the people of Argentina to understand that as a coach I have to defend my players.

“At no time were we notified that they could not play the match. We wanted to play the game, the players from Brazil too.”

Claudio Tapia, the president of the Argentinian Football Association, refuted suggestions the Albiceleste had knowingly contravened Brazil’s health guidelines.

“You can’t talk about anybody lying because there is a health legislation under which all South American [football] tournaments are played,” he told reporters.

“The health authorities of each country approved a protocol that we have been closely complying with. What happened today is regrettable for football.