Brazilian health officials stormed the field in an apparent dispute over coronavirus quarantine regulations during a World Cup qualification match between Brazil and Argentina, South America’s most successful soccer teams, on Sunday.
Officials from both sides, a small crowd allowed into the stadium, and a global television audience were unable to make sense of what was happening in So Paulo as a group of Brazilian public health officials stormed the field and ordered Argentina’s players off the field.
There were four Argentina players whose contracts were in doubt, including three starters who play in the Premier League of England. Quarantine is required upon arrival in Brazil for visitors who have spent time in the United Kingdom within the previous 14 days.
Argentines arrived with four English-based players, and three of them started on Sunday. Players from Argentina arrived in Brazil two days ago after a trip to Venezuela for an earlier qualification game last week.
A brief altercation between Argentina players and medical staff was captured on camera and broadcast around the world before the visitors returned to their locker room. Officials from both teams, as well as players like Lionel Messi and Neymar, participated in the on-field discussions.
The game was eventually halted by the referee. The stunned crowd was entertained by an impromptu training session by Brazil’s players after Argentina had retired to its locker room. Meanwhile, an Argentinian police motorcade was en route to the stadium.
FIFA, the World Cup’s governing body, and Europe’s top clubs and leagues have been embroiled in a dispute over the release of players for the qualification games.
This month, many European leagues and teams have made unilateral decisions prohibiting their players from attending World Cup qualifying games in South America because of the necessity of the players missing important league games if they do so. They claim they have no other choice. The absence of nine Brazilian players for the match against Argentina was compounded by the failure of clubs to release their players.
Although Tottenham and Aston Villa allowed their Argentine players to travel in the Premier League. So Paulo starters Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso, as well as Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, were all named in the Tottenham Hotspur squad. A sub in his place was Emiliano Buendia.
Only a few hours earlier, Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, had ordered the isolation of four Argentine players and their exclusion from the game. Argentina’s soccer federation has denied that any of the players involved failed to report their travels to the United Kingdom, according to local media reports.
In light of Argentina’s team having been in Brazil for three days and Anvisa’s earlier directive that the four British-based Argentina players must be isolated, it was unclear why the health agency did not take action before the game.
Brazilian health authorities have been asked to quarantine the players, who have been barred from participating in any activity and should not be allowed to remain on Brazilian soil, according to a statement from Anvisa.
A number of Argentina’s players remained in the tunnel area for several minutes after the match had been halted as officials and players alike tried to come to terms with the dispute. CONMEBOL, the regional soccer body for South America, finally announced the game had been abandoned about an hour after play had first been suspended.
While acknowledging that the referee made the call to end the game, CONMEBOL emphasised that FIFA retains final say in these matters.
According to a CONMEBOL tweet, “the World Cup qualifiers are a FIFA competition.” This institution has sole authority over all matters relating to the organisation and development of the organisation.
Scaloni, Argentina’s national team coach, said in a statement posted on the national team’s Twitter page that the team had not previously been informed that it was ineligible to field the British-based players. As he put it, “the Brazilian players and I both wanted to play the game.”
False travel claims were denied by Claudio Tapia, the president of Argentina’s soccer federation. According to him, Brazil’s health authorities had given their approval to the conditions under which Argentina’s team had travelled there.
According to Tapia, “You can’t talk about any lie here because there is health legislation that governs all South American tournaments. Each country’s health authorities have given their approval to a protocol, and we have followed it exactly.
The head of Anvisa was approached by a Brazilian television commentator during the live broadcast of the first half of the game. When the Argentine players were ordered to remain in isolation while awaiting deportation from the country, they ignored the instructions, according to Anvisa official Antonio Barra Torres.
As he told Globo, “They moved to the stadium, entered the field, and there were a series of noncompliances.”