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Brazil vs Argentina World Cup qualifier abandoned — why and what next

Both teams are set to play again Thursday: Argentina hosts Bolivia and Brazil welcomes Peru. Brazil has a perfect 7-0-0 record, while Argentina currently sit in second place.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 9, 2021 1:17:01 pm
Argentina's Lionel Messi and Brazil's Neymar are seen as play is interrupted after Brazilian health officials objected to the participation of three Argentine players they say broke quarantine rules. (Reuters)

Unprecedented scenes unfolded during the World Cup qualifier between Latin American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina at Sao Paolo’s NeoQuimica Arena. Brazilian health officials stormed the field in the 7th minute in a bid to remove three Argentinian players who ‘didn’t comply with coronavirus restrictions’.

The match was suspended with the score at 0-0 after players, coaches, football officials and local authorities argued for several minutes on the field. PSG teammates Lionel Messi and Neymar seemed visibly frustrated as the events unfolded.

What was the confusion?

As the match reached its 7th minute, a slew of Brazilian health officials entered the field and interrupted the proceedings. Brazil’s health agency, Anvisa, said three of Argentina’s England-based players should have been in quarantine instead of playing in the match. According to Covid-19 protocols, those who have been in countries on Brazil’s red list face a 14-day quarantine after entering the country.

The players in the eye of the storm were Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Tottenham duo Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero. Another player who came under the scanner was Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendia, who did not start the match.

Antonio Barra Torres, the president of Anvisa, said that the four Argentina players would be fined and deported for breaching Brazil’s Covid-19 protocols.

The four had been ordered to quarantine by Brazil’s health agency ahead of the match. Despite that order, three of the four started for Argentina.

The health agency said all four allegedly told immigration officers that in the previous 14 days they hadn’t been to Britain or anywhere else that Brazil puts on its own red list for Covid-19 risks.

The four players traveled with the Argentine team to Venezuela on Thursday, and Martinez and Lo Celso played in the team’s 3-1 qualifying win over Venezuela. The Argentine team then traveled from Venezuela to Brazil and the players were in the country for three days prior to the match.

“We’re not talking about a lie or anything,” said the Argentine federation president Claudio Tapia, “because there are health rules under which FIFA qualifiers and all South American tournaments — Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana — are played and which all the health authorities of each country approved. It’s a protocol that is in effect and the 10 federations worked on together, and we’ve been complying with it.”

“The decision to interrupt the match was never within Anvisa’s reach. However, fielding players who did not comply with Brazilian laws and health norms, and also offered false information to authorities did require the agency to act, at its time and its way,” the Brazilian health agency said in a statement.

According to a TV Globo report, all four England-based players told Brazilian police that they did not fill their entry forms upon arrival at the airport. The report said the footballers were not deported and received permission to fly back with their team.

All the four England-based players joined the Argentina squad despite the Premier League not wanting players to be released for international duty because of the need to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel on their return.

What are the Covid-19 restrictions in Brazil?

A CNN report states Brazil has banned flights to and from the UK after the Alpha variant of Covid-19 was first detected in England — and nobody who has been in the UK in the past 14 days can enter the country, other than residents, family members of Brazilian nationals and some business travel. Brazil has also banned flights coming from or transiting through India and South Africa.

According to the report, if you take a flight to Brazil, before boarding, all arrivals must present a negative PCR test performed within 72 hours, and a traveler’s health declaration form to their airline before boarding (the airline will distribute the form). Children under two are exempt. Land and sea borders are closed to non-residents, unless enroute to fly home. In that case, travelers must get authorization in advance, present a note from their own embassy or consulate authorizing their crossing at the border, show the plane ticket and go straight to the airport. The majority of arrivals don’t have to be quarantined, but if you are traveling from the UK under the exceptions listed above, you must quarantine for 14 days upon landing in Brazil.

Players, coaches visibly frustrated

According to AP, Brazilian TV showed several exchanges between players and coaches during the chaos. Brazil coach Tite seemed to be the most upset. “They had 72 hours before the match. They had to do it at the time of the match!” Tite shouted at the Anvisa agents.

“They did not talk to us before this,” repeated Lionel Messi, the Argentine captain.

Brazil called up nine Premier League players for the World Cup qualifiers in September but none of them traveled to South America because of the restrictions.

“A match between some of the best in the world ends like this. I would like people in Argentina to understand that as a coach I have to take care of my players. If people come and say they have to deport them, I will not allow (it),” Scaloni told channel TyC Sports. “We wanted to play the match, so did the Brazilians,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said.

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What’s next

There has been plenty of speculation as to whether one of the teams might be punished for its role in the suspension of the match. The final decision lies with FIFA, which has till now issued a short statement, stating “FIFA can confirm that following a decision by the match officials, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying match between Brazil and Argentina has been suspended. Further details will follow in due course.”

Both teams are set to play again Thursday: Argentina hosts Bolivia and Brazil welcomes Peru. Brazil has a perfect 7-0-0 record (21 points), while Argentina currently sit in second place, six points behind (4-0-3, 15 points).

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