Health officials disrupt World Cup qualifier after players' alleged quarantine violations

Associated Press

Argentina’s World Cup qualifier at Brazil was interrupted after just seven minutes Sunday in a wild dispute over coronavirus concerns, with the game later suspended by the referee.

Just after the start of a matchup of South American powers featuring Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar, Brazilian health officials came onto the pitch over three Argentina players whom they felt should not be playing because they allegedly did not reveal on arriving in Sao Paulo on Friday that they had recently been in England.

Argentina responded by walking off the field at NeoQuimica Arena in Sao Paulo.

Argentina tweeted that the game, which was at 0-0, would not resume. South American soccer body CONMEBOL confirmed the match had been suspended and FIFA will now decide what to do with it.

Antonio Barra Torres, the president of Brazil’s health agency, Anvisa, said four Argentina players will be fined and deported for allegedly not following Brazil’s COVID-19 protocols.

Four of Argentina’s players from the English 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, came to play for Argentina despite the Premier League not wanting players to be released for international duty due to 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 they hadn’t in the last 14 days been to the United Kingdom or anywhere else that Brazil puts on its own red list for COVID-19 risks. Those who have face a 14-day quarantine in Brazil.

Brazil and Argentina's player talk as the soccer game is interrupted by health authorities during a qualifying soccer match for the World Cup.

Martinez, Romero and Lo Celso started the match. Buendia was not included in the squad.

Brazil called nine Premier League players for the three rounds of World Cup qualifiers in September, including five starters, but none of them came – as advised by their clubs.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said he and his players were saddened by the turn of events, and that both teams would have liked to play the game.

“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.