A World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Brazil was abandoned amid farcical, confused scenes after four Premier League players apparently violated Brazilian regulations designed to contain a Covid outbreak that has killed more than 580,000 Brazilians.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez and Tottenham’s Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso were all on the pitch at São Paulo’s Neo Química Arena on Sunday afternoon when federal police and officials from Brazil’s health agency, Anvisa, took to the field to halt play after just seven minutes.
The three players and Aston Villa’s Emiliano Buendía, who was in the stands, had reportedly somehow sidestepped Brazilian rules stating that travellers who have been in the UK, South Africa or India during the previous 14 days are forbidden from entering the country, unless they are Brazilian citizens or have permanent residency.
In a statement issued before kick-off Anvisa said it had received reports the four Argentina players, who had flown into Brazil from Venezuela on Friday, had provided “false information” on their pre-flight health declarations. Anvisa called on local health to place the players under immediate quarantine and “prevent them from remaining in Brazilian territory”.
However, for reasons that remain unclear, Martínez, Romero and Lo Celso were all on the pitch when the match against Brazil kicked off. Less than 10 minutes later there were bizarre scenes, as officials marched on to the pitch and brought proceedings to a halt.
“We are being humiliated on the world stage. What is happening is profoundly regrettable,” the Brazilian commentator Galvão Bueno lamented as bemused looking players, including Neymar and Lionel Messi, stood on the pitch waiting to find out if the game would be restarted. Several minutes later it was officially suspended.
The Argentina manager, Lionel Scaloni, claimed that at no moment had his team been told the game could not be played.
The on field hubbub quickly turned into a diplomatic and political storm, as members of Brazil’s opposition wondered why health officials had not taken such a firm line with the country’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly flouted Covid containment measures.
“Let’s hope Anvisa shows the same firmness when it comes to health rules at the events promoted by the president, without masks and vaccines,” tweeted the former head of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia.