By MAURICIO SAVARESE
AP Sports Writer
SAO PAULO (AP) — Argentina’s World Cup qualifier in Brazil was interrupted after just seven minutes Sunday when local health officials went onto the pitch in a wild dispute over coronavirus concerns.
The match featuring Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar was ultimately suspended by the referee with the score at 0-0.
Brazilian health officials alleged three Argentine players did not reveal on arrival last Friday that they had recently been in England, and should have been in quarantine rather than playing in the match.
The Argentina team responded by walking off the field at NeoQuimica Arena in Sao Paulo.
Argentina tweeted that the game would not resume. South American soccer’s governing body, CONMEBOL, said the match had been suspended. FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, also confirmed the game had been suspended and said it was yet to decide what to do next.
Antonio Barra Torres, the president of Brazil’s health agency, Anvisa, said four Argentina players would be fined and deported for not following Brazil’s COVID-19 protocols.
The four — all players from the England-based Premier League — had been ordered to quarantine by Brazil’s health agency ahead of the match. Despite that order, three of the four started for Argentina.
Aston Villa players Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia, and Tottenham duo Giovanni Lo Celso and Cristian Romero, traveled to play for Argentina 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. Now they have been caught up in Brazilian quarantine restrictions.
Brazil’s 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. Those who have been in countries on the red list face a 14-day quarantine in Brazil.
Martinez, Romero and Lo Celso started the match. Buendia was not included in the match squad.
Anvisa said in a statement that it realized the four players were in an irregular situation since their arrival in Brazil. It had prompted a meeting Saturday involving representatives from CONMEBOL, Brazilian football confederation and Argentina’s squad.
“At that meeting, Anvisa and local health authorities determined the players should quarantine,” it said. “However, even after the meeting and the report to authorities, the players took part of Saturday evening’s training session.”
The agency added that all attempts to remove the players and take them to the airport were frustrated on Sunday “since the squad left the hotel and also much before the match began, when Anvisa had its action blocked” at the NeoQuimica Arena.
“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 agency said.
Brazil called up nine Premier League players for the three rounds of World Cup qualifiers in September, including five starters, but none of them traveled to South America.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said he and his players were upset by the turn of events, and that both teams would have liked to play the game. He and his squad were yet to leave the stadium more than two hours after the match was first interrupted.
“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,” Scaloni told channel TyC Sports. “We wanted to play the match, so did the Brazilians.”
Brazil’s soccer confederation interim president Ednaldo Rodrigues said he found the decision of the health agency to be “strange.”
“At no moment was the Brazilian soccer confederation in favor of this,” he told TV Globo.
Brazil players stayed on the field after Argentina left, and started doing training exercises. Federal police were outside the stadium to escort the Argentina squad.
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