Football: Uproar as Brazil-Argentina clash abandoned following COVID controversy

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil’s World Cup qualifying clash against Argentina was sensationally abandoned shortly after kick-off on Sunday as controversy over Covid-19 protocols erupted.

Amid incredible scenes at Sao Paulo’s Neo Quimica Arena, the match between the two giants of South American football was halted when Brazilian health officials ran onto the pitch, triggering a melee involving team officials and players from both sides.

The sides were just seven minutes into the match, which was played in front of only 1,500 spectators because of coronavirus restrictions.

According to Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), the Premier League players — Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero of Tottenham, and Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia — provided “false information” upon their entry to Brazil.

Romero, Lo Celso and Martinez were all in Argentina’s starting line-up for Sunday’s game — prompting the surreal intervention of ANVISA officials.

The four players were accused of failing to disclose that they had spent time in the United Kingdom in the 14 days before they arrived in Brazil, where Covid-19 has claimed more than 580,000 lives.

The controversy comes after nine Brazilians based in the Premier League failed to travel to South America following objections from their clubs.

Soon, Brazil’s squad began a practice game on the pitch.

Messi later hit out at the intervention by Brazilian officials.

“We’ve been here for three days, why are you doing this just now?” he said on Argentina’s TyC network.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni was similarly incensed, telling media that “at no time were we told that they could not play the game.”

The Argentina team arrived back in Buenos Aires during Monday’s early hours.

Brazilian officials were unrepentant about the decision to halt the game however.

“We got to this point because everything that ANVISA directed, from the first moment, was not fulfilled,” ANVISA director Antonio Barra Torres said on Brazilian television.

The four players “were directed to remain isolated while awaiting deportation, but they did not comply. They went to the stadium and they entered the field, in a series of breaches,” the official added.

“ANVISA considers that this situation represents a serious health risk and recommends that the local health authorities (of Sao Paulo) order the immediate quarantine of the players, who are prohibited from taking part in any activity and from remaining on Brazilian territory,” the agency said in a statement earlier Sunday.

The agency also said Argentina’s delegation had been warned in a meeting on Saturday that the players at the center of the controversy must be quarantined and should not play any part in Sunday’s game.

South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL said in a statement that the game had been “suspended” but did not say when or if the match would be replayed, or whether either team would forfeit the game.

“By decision of the match referee, the match organized by FIFA between Brazil and Argentina for the qualifiers for the World Cup is suspended,” CONMEBOL said in a statement.

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