Brazil vs. Argentina: World Cup qualifiers don’t get much better than Brazil vs. Argentina. That is, when the teams 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 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 be deported for violating the country’s health regulations. The entire Argentina team proceeded to leave the field and never reemerged from the locker room.
The Argentine soccer federation’s official Twitter account was first to announce the suspension of the match. That was followed by CONMEBOL, the governing body for the sport in South America. It’s unclear if and when the match will be resumed or replayed.
“The meeting between Brazil and Argentina was suspended,” read the Argentina tweet. CONMEBOL’s 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 required under 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. ANVISA’s president believes this to be the case. Argentina’s head coach, meanwhile, claimed 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.
“It wasn’t the moment to do it, and it leaves us very said,” Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni told TyC cameras. “If [ANVISA] people come in saying that they want to take [players] away and deport them, there’s no chance [that happens]. In no moment were we told we couldn’t play the game. The CONMEBOL delegate told us to go to the locker and that’s what I did … We’re the victims in the sense that we wanted to play. The Brazilian players wanted to play, too.”
“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.
ANVISA stated that the four players misrepresented their travel details in official travel documents, omitting 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 team’s 3-1 qualifying win over Venezuela. The Argentine team then traveled from Venezuela to Brazil and the players were in the country for three days prior to the match.
“We’re not talking about a lie or anything,” said the Argentine federation president Claudio Tapia, “because there are health rules under which FIFA qualifiers and all South American tournaments — Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana — are played and which all the health authorities of each country approved. It’s a protocol that is in effect and the 10 federations worked on together, and we’ve been complying with it.”
Brazil’s national team have not faced 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 upon their return that would have resulted in players missing club matches. 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 last July’s Copa America final. Argentina won that game 1-0 at Brazil’s Maracana Stadium and Lionel Messi won his first major title with Argentina’s senior national team. Sunday’s match was originally scheduled to be played in March 2021, but it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. South American authorities added a matchday in September to squeeze in one of the matchdays that had to be rescheduled.
Both teams are set to play again 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).
Depending on whether the media outlet is based in Brazil or Argentina, there has been plenty of speculation as to whether one of the teams might be punished for its role in the suspension of the match. One side says that Brazil could be sanctioned for government officials invading an official match, while the other side says that Argentina could be penalized for leaving the field.