Brazil-Argentina suspended as health officials storm field to confront Argentine players over COVID protocols

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A World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina was suspended during the first half Sunday as Brazilian health officials stormed the pitch to contest the inclusion of three Premier League-based Argentine players accused of breaking quarantine protocol. Argentina walked off the pitch at Corinthians Arena after the intervention of the officials about six minutes into the match, with Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez and the Tottenham Hotspur pair of Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso at the center of the controversy.

All three players started for Argentina, with Villa's Emiliano Buendia also in the Argentine squad. But none of them were apparently granted an exemption to play with 14 days of quarantine required for visitors to Brazil from England or anybody who has been in the U.K. within the fortnight before their arrival in Brazil.

Argentina announced the match had been suspended after officials talked with both sides for more than 20 minutes. The CONMEBOL region is already behind on qualification fixtures, and it remains unclear when or if the match will be completed.

"By decision of the match referee," read a CONMEBOL statement, "the match organized by FIFA between Brazil and Argentina for the World Cup Qualifiers is suspended. The referee and the match commissioner will submit a report to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee, which will determine the steps to be followed. These procedures strictly adhere to current regulations."

"Anvisa considers the situation a serious health risk and so has asked local health authorities to determine the immediate quarantine of the players," said Brazil's health authority, Anvisa, in a pregame statement. "They are stopped from participating in any activity and should be prevented from remaining on Brazilian soil."

If sent directly back to England, the players risk serving a 10-day quarantine period which would compromise their availability for Villa and Spurs after the international break.

CONMEBOL have already clarified their stance on the situation, laying responsibility at FIFA's door: "The World Cup Qualifiers is a FIFA competition," read the short statement. "All decisions concerning its organization and development are the exclusive power of that institution."

Meanwhile, Argentine Football Association president Claudio Tapia has denied any wrongdoing in the inclusion of Martinez, Romero, Lo Celso and Buendia: "You cannot talk about any lie here because there is health legislation under which all South American tournaments are played," he said. "The health authorities of each country approved a protocol that we have been fully complying with."

"It makes me very sad," said Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni. "I am not looking for any culprit. If something happened or did not happen, it was not the time to make that intervention. It should have been a party for everyone, to enjoy 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 match, the Brazilian players too."

"We got to this point because everything that Anvisa directed, from the first moment, was not fulfilled," AFP quoted Anvisa director Antonio Barra Torres as saying on television. "[The four players] were directed to remain isolated while awaiting deportation, but they did not comply. They went to the stadium and they entered the field, in a series of breaches."

Brazil's CBF have since emphasized their "surprise" at Anvisa's actions and added that action could have been taken "much more adequately before the match."

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@Argentina via Twitter
September 5, 2021, 8:35 PM
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September 5, 2021, 8:35 PM
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September 5, 2021, 8:29 PM
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Play interrupted

This is crazy. Personally, I have never seen anything like this before. We currently have health inspectors trying to take players off the pitch mid-match. This relates to the contentious inclusions of the four Premier League-based players in the Argentina squad. Neymar and Messi are already having a chat.

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@Argentina via Twitter
September 5, 2021, 7:15 PM
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@CBF_Futebol via Twitter
September 5, 2021, 7:13 PM
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Getting underway in Sao Paulo and this one promises to be wild! An embrace between PSG teammates Neymar and Messi before entering the pitch, but will that relationship be tested over these next 90 minutes?

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Martinez, Romero, Lo Celso & Buendia update

The latest on the four Premier League-based players via our own Luis Miguel Echegaray...

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Enticing

Plenty to look forward to in this one with potential Copa America revenge on the menu and also Argentina's close shave with COVID-19 protocol which might continue to be an issue post-match. These clashes are always emotionally charged and the Albiceleste need a repeat of their summer win to close the gap on the Selecao Brasileira at the top of the qualifying group. 

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Confirmed starting XIs

Brazil: Weverton; Danilo, Verissimo, Militao, Sandro; Ribeiro, Casemiro, Gerson, Paqueta; Gabigol and Neymar.

Argentina: Emiliano Martinez; Montiel, Romero, Otamendi, Acuna; Di Maria, De Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso; Messi and Lautaro Martinez. 

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