November 19, 2022

Brazil vs. Argentina suspended: Why World Cup qualifier was suspended

World Cup qualifiers don’t get much better than Brazil vs. Argentina. That is, when they 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 on 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 are deported for violating the country’s health regulations. The entire Argentina team proceeded to leave the field and never reappeared.

The Argentina soccer federation’s official Twitter account was first to announce the suspension of the match and that was followed by CONMEBOL, the governing body for the sport in South America. It’s unclear when the match will be played.

“The meeting between Brazil and Argentina was suspended,” read the Argentina tweet. The CONMEBOL 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 technically required by 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. Meanwhile, Argentina’s head coach claims 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.

“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.

Other reports state that the four players misrepresented their travel details in official travel documents, failing to mention 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 3-1 qualifying win over Venezuela. The Argentina national team then traveled from Venezuela to Brazil and the players were in the country for three days prior to the match.

Brazil didn’t face 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 which would have resulted in players missing club matches. However, 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 the Copa America final that was played on July 10. Argentina won that game 1-0 at Brazil’s Maracana Stadium with Messi winning his first-ever major title with Argentina’s senior national team. Sunday’s Brazil-Argentina match was originally scheduled to be played in March 2021, but it was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The South American authorities added another matchday in September to squeeze in one of the matchdays that had to be rescheduled.

Both teams are set to play matches on 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).

Below is a rundown of the events as they happened: Sporting News was following the event and provided realtime updates and commentary:

4:12 p.m.: Incredible. Now Brazil is holding a scrimmage among their players on the field. This game is definitely not resuming.

3:58 p.m.: And now the official word from the South American governing body CONMEBOL. The statement says the suspension is a decision by the referee. It’s an interesting choice of language because there could be repercussions for a government authority invading the field and interrupting an official match.

3:52 p.m.: Brazil’s players still haven’t left the field. Meanwhile, Argentina’s bus is apparently warming up:

3:34 p.m.: According to Argentina’s official national team account, the match has been suspended:

3:32 p.m.: Outside of the obvious, the biggest question at this point is why the players were allowed to take the field to begin with. The officials had ample time to resolve the situation:

3:31 p.m.: Of course, that bib that Messi is wearing is a photo bib:

3:24 p.m.: This reporter claims that Argentina ambassadors in Brazil are stepping in to help resolve the situation:

3:23 p.m.: Cameras are capturing Messi talking to Dani Alves and Messi is already in a bib. He took off his jersey. And now he’s on the field talking to Neymar and Brazil coach Tite: