Brazil vs. Argentina suspended: World Cup qualifier interrupted by health officials

Brazil vs. Argentina suspended: World Cup qualifier interrupted by health officials

World Cup qualifiers don’t get much better than Brazil vs. Argentina. That is, when they can actually play.

The two South American heavyweights — currently No. 1 and No. 2 in the region’s qualifying standings — were set to meet for the first time during the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on Sunday in Sao Paulo, but officials from Brazil’s Anvisa health authority interrupted the match in the 10th minute to demand that four Argentine players who traveled from the United Kingdom are deported for violating the country’s health regulations. The entire Argentina team proceeded to leave the field and never reappeared.

The Argentina soccer federation’s official Twitter account was first to announce the suspension of the match and that was followed by CONMEBOL, the governing body for the sport in South America. It’s unclear when the match will be played.

“The meeting between Brazil and Argentina was suspended,” read the Argentina tweet. The CONMEBOL message stated: “Due to a decision by the match referee, the World Cup qualifying match organized by FIFA between Brazil and Argentina has been suspended.”

Reports indicated that the four players in question — Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa), Cristian Romero (Tottenham Hotspur) and Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham Hotspur) — were technically required by Brazilian regulations to complete a 14-day quarantine after traveling from the United Kingdom. Anvisa issued a statement on this topic in the days leading up to the match, but Argentina proceeded as normal and three of the players were included in Argentina’s starting lineup against Brazil. 

There’s an argument that Brazilian health officials made their position clear and public, and the Argentine side ignored it. Meanwhile, Argentina’s head coach claims that they were never told they couldn’t play the game. Others have reported that FIFA and CONMEBOL officials stepped in to assure that there would be no problems and that an exception could be made for the four players since they were part of the Argentine bubble. Either way, it’s unclear why the issue wasn’t resolved prior to the teams taking the field. 

“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.

Other reports state that the four players misrepresented their travel details in official travel documents, failing to mention their trip from the United Kingdom. The four players traveled with the Argentine team to Venezuela on Thursday, and Martinez and Lo Celso played in the 3-1 qualifying win over Venezuela. The Argentina national team then traveled from Venezuela to Brazil and the players were in the country for three days prior to the match.

Brazil didn’t face the same quarantine issues since its nine England-based players did not travel to South America after the English Premier League announced it would not release players to play for countries traveling to destinations on the UK’s red list. That would have required a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine which would have resulted in players missing club matches. However, Argentina’s four players defied the Premier League and traveled all the same, with the understanding that they would return to England early to complete the quarantine. 

The Brazil-Argentina rivalry match was highly anticipated as a rematch of the Copa America final that was played on July 10. Argentina won that game 1-0 at Brazil’s Maracana Stadium with Messi winning his first-ever major title with Argentina’s senior national team. Sunday’s Brazil-Argentina match was originally scheduled to be played in March 2021, but it was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The South American authorities added another matchday in September to squeeze in one of the matchdays that had to be rescheduled.

Both teams are set to play matches on 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).

Below is a rundown of the events as they happened: Sporting News was following the event and provided realtime updates and commentary:

Brazil vs. Argentina suspended

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Brazil0
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NOTE: Match suspended in the 10th minute

Brazil vs. Argentina updates and highlights

(All times ET)

4:12 p.m.: Incredible. Now Brazil is holding a scrimmage among their players on the field. This game is definitely not resuming.

3:58 p.m.: And now the official word from the South American governing body CONMEBOL. The statement says the suspension is a decision by the referee. It’s an interesting choice of language because there could be repercussions for a government authority invading the field and interrupting an official match.

3:52 p.m.: Brazil’s players still haven’t left the field. Meanwhile, Argentina’s bus is apparently warming up:

3:34 p.m.: According to Argentina’s official national team account, the match has been suspended:

3:32 p.m.: Outside of the obvious, the biggest question at this point is why the players were allowed to take the field to begin with. The officials had ample time to resolve the situation:

3:31 p.m.: Of course, that bib that Messi is wearing is a photo bib:

3:24 p.m.: This reporter claims that Argentina ambassadors in Brazil are stepping in to help resolve the situation:

3:23 p.m.: Cameras are capturing Messi talking to Dani Alves and Messi is already in a bib. He took off his jersey. And now he’s on the field talking to Neymar and Brazil coach Tite:

3:21 p.m.: The Brazilian players still haven’t left the field. The health officials are not seen on the field and it seems like the conversation has progressed into the lockers.

3:19 p.m.: The rules in Brazil require that travelers from the UK need to quarantine. There are reports that the four players lied about traveling from the UK (they traveled from the UK to Venezuela, where Argentina played on Thursday).

3:18 p.m.: How will this get resolved? Argentine media claim that the team will not be playing unless all the players are permitted to play.

3:15 p.m.: The players in question are Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa), Cristian Romero (Tottenham) and Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham). Three of the four players are in today’s starting lineup.

10th min.: And now Argentina is leaving the field. Crazy scenes.

8th min.: Plenty of discussions happening at the sidelines and Lionel Messi is now involved.

6th min.: And the cameras turn to the sidelines where Brazilian officials look to be intervening. There were reports that health officials were seeking to force Argentina’s four England-based players to leave the match after they didn’t comply with mandatory 14-day quarantine rules for travelers from the UK. The word was that the issue was resolved, but apparently not.

4th min.: And now it’s Argentina’s Cristian Romero with a tough tackle on Eder Militao that sends the player flying. And Neymar is not happy. Sparks are already flying.

1st min.: We’re off and we already have a player getting a talking to from the referee in the first minute!

2:58 p.m.: Time for anthems:

2:57 p.m.: This rivalry is way too friendly when it comes to the two biggest stars:

2:57 p.m.: It’s been eight straight games that Brazil hasn’t given up a goal at home during qualifying:

2:43 p.m.: Messi’s already feeling it during warmups:

Brazil vs. Argentina: Starting lineups

Brazil starting center back Marquinhos will be out due to suspension after picking up his second yellow card against Chile. His replacement at center back will be Benfica’s Lucas Verissimo , who will be making his debut.

Tite is also opting to bring in Everton Ribeiro in place of Vinicius Jr. , whose speed could make for a solid attacking option off the bench. Gerson , who subbed in for Bruno Guimaraes against Chile, starts alongside Casemiro in central midfield. 

Brazil starting lineup (4-2-3-1, left to right):  12-Weverton-GK — 6-Alex Sandro, 22-Lucas Verissimo, 3-Eder Militao, 2-Danilo — 18-Gerson, 5-Casemiro — 17-Lucas Paqueta, 10-Neymar, 11-Everton Ribeiro — 9-Gabriel Barbosa

Brazil subs (12):  23-Everson-GK, 1-Santos-GK, 13-Dani Alves, 16-Guilherme Arana, 14-Miranda, 4-Leo Ortiz, 15-Edenilson, 8-Bruno Guimaraes, 21-Artur, 19-Matheus Cunha, 20-Hulk, 7-Vinícius Jr

Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni gets Cristian “Cuti” Romero and Leandro Paredes back from suspension, and they’re both slotted into the starting lineup. He’s also giving Gonzalo Montiel the start over right back Nahuel Molina .

Argentina starting lineup (4-3-3, left to right): 23-Emiliano Martinez — 8-Marcos Acuna, 13-Cristian Romero, 19-Nicolas Otamendi, 4-Gonzalo Montiel — 7-Rodrigo De Paul, 5-Leandro Paredes, 20-Giovani Lo Celso — 10-Lionel Messi, 22-Lautaro Martínez, 11-Angel Di Maria

Argentina subs (12): 12-Juan Musso-GK, 1-Geronimo Rulli-GK, 2-Juan Foyth, 3-Nicolas Tagliafico, 6-German Pezzella, 18-Guido Rodriguez, 14-Exequiel Palacios, 21-Paulo Dybala, 9-Angel Correa, 16-Joaquin Correa, 15-Nicolas Gonzalez, 17-Alejandro “Papu” Gomez