Brazil’s World Cup qualifier against Argentina at the Corinthians Arena stadium in Sao Paulo was suspended on Sunday after four players from the visiting side were accused of breaching Covid-19 protocols.
After seven minutes into the start of play, officials from Brazilian health regulator Anvisa walked onto the pitch and ordered the match to be stopped as Premier League players Emiliano Martinez, Giovani Lo Celso, Cristian Romero and Emiliano Buendia had failed to comply with entry regulations for travellers.
As per current rules in Brazil, non-Brazilians have been prohibited from entering the country if they have passed through the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, Northern Ireland and India in the past 14 days.
Earlier before the match, Anvisa had accused these players of providing false information on immigration forms and ordered them to self-isolate immediately.
“Anvisa considers the situation a serious health risk, and therefore advised the local health authorities to determine the immediate quarantine of players, who are prevented from participating in any activity and should not remain in Brazilian territory,” the agency said.
At the time of the incident, Martinez, Lo Celso and Romero were on the pitch while Buendia was in the dug-out.
Players and coaches from both the sides, specially Argentina captain Lionel Messi and his Brazilian counterpart Neymar also spoke to the Anvisa officials after the game was halted. As per reports, Messi was heard asking why the fixture was allowed to kick-off if the officials were already aware of the protocol breach.
“The referee and the match official will take a report to the FIFA disciplinary committee and they will decide what steps to take,” the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni echoed Messi and questioned why had the officials waited until the game began.
“It makes me very sad. I’m not looking for any culprits. Irrespective of whether or not there was any wrongdoing, it was not the time to make that intervention,” Scaloni said.
“It should have been a match to be enjoyed by everyone, a chance to see the best players in the world. I would like the people of Argentina to understand that as a coach I have to defend my players. At no time were we notified that they could not play the match. We wanted to play the game, the players from Brazil too,” he added.
Claudio Tapia, the president of the Argentinian Football Association, dismissed claims that his players had knowingly contravened Brazil’s health guidelines.
“You can’t talk about anybody lying because there is a health legislation under which all South American [football] tournaments are played. The health authorities of each country approved a protocol that we have been closely complying with,” he expressed.
“What happened today is regrettable for football,” he added.
It is still not clear as to when the suspended World Cup qualifier game would be held now.