One of the most fabled and fiery fixtures in the international footballing calendar descended into farce on Sunday night.
Brazil’s World Cup qualifying clash with Argentina was abandoned after just nine minutes at the Corinthians Arena after Brazilian health officials stopped the game due to the participation of three Premier League-based Argentina players in the match.
Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez and Tottenham duo Giovani Lo Celso and Christian Romero started the game for Argentina while another Villa player, Emi Buendia, was in the Argentina squad.
So how did it come to this? Sportsmail looks to navigate a way through the chaos, and assesses what may happen next.
Health authorities stormed the pitch during the Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier to detain four Premier League players thought to have dodged quarantine rules
Cristian Romero (top left), Giovani Lo Celso (top right), Emiliano Martinez (bottom left) and Emi Buendia (bottom right) are accused of breaking Brazil’s Covid-19 quarantine rules
What have the Premier League four done wrong?
Sportsmail exclusively reported on September 4 that the four Argentina players were under investigation from Brazilian authorities over suspicions that they had lied on their covid documents before entering the country for Sunday’s match.
The four are believed to have claimed they were in Venezuela before entering Brazil and not the UK. It seems remarkable if they thought they could have gotten away with flouting the Covid protocols as they all either played or were on the bench in their respective Premier League matches last weekend.
Brazilian law states anyone entering the country having been in the UK in the previous fortnight must quarantine for 14 days on arrival. So as soon as Brazilian health authorities saw the players on the pitch, they took decisive action and the match was brought to a halt.
Brazil has been one of the hardest hit countries by the pandemic, with nearly 21 million cases recorded and 584,000 deaths.
Argentina’s Marcos Acuna and Nicolas Otamendi remonstrate with a Brazilian health official
Why was the intervention made on the pitch?
It was a question that even Lionel Messi posed as the chaos unfolded around him.
According to RMC Sport, Argentina’s talisman was heard saying: ‘We’ve been here for three days, we were waiting to play the match, why didn’t you come earlier? This is a mess, we’re off.’
Brazil’s health agency Anvisa released a statement on Sunday, around four hours before kick-off, after appearing to have concluded the investigation that Sportsmail had reported days prior..
They claimed that the four had entered the country illegally and hadn’t declared they had been in the UK.
Messi and Brazilian ace Neymar, who are team-mates at PSG, argued with officials on Sunday
Who is to blame?
Not me, says Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni. He pointed his finger firmly in the direction of Anvisa, echoing Messi’s sentiments.
‘If something happened or did not happen it was not the time to make this intervention,’ Scaloni said. ‘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 game, the players from Brazil too.’
But Anvisa claim differently. Director Antonio Barra Torres went live on Globo TV in Brazil amid the stoppage on the pitch, saying the police had gone to the Argentina team hotel earlier in the day and ordered the four English-based players not to take part in the game and to enter quarantine.
The Argentina FA had argued that the group had been in Brazilian territory since Friday September 3 from 8am, and as such were complying with all of the current protocols around Covid-19 and travel regulated by Conmebol, organisers of the qualifiers.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni (centre) was dismayed at how the events unfolded
In the Brazil camp, there was frustration ahead of this international period as players such as Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool and Gabriel Jesus and Ederson at Manchester City were blocked from leaving for a red-list country. Brazil were without 11 players overall for this encounter.
Sportsmail reported there were suspicions the Brazilian FA were putting pressure on authorities to ensure the Argentinian players could not feature in Sunday’s game but at that point, it remained to be seen whether the quartet had failed to declare their whereabouts on official documents.
And it is a sentiment echoed by the media in Argentina. Outlet Ole wrote in their Monday morning piece: ‘Many say that the move is even endorsed by the top of Brazilian football.’
But the very top of Brazilian football have even scrutinised the move by Anvisa. The Brazilian FA said in a statement: ‘We emphasise that we were absolutely surprised by the moment in which the action of the National Health Surveillance Agency took place, with the game already started since Anvisa could have exercised its activity in a much more effective way, at different times and days before the game.
There are claims in Argentinean media that senior figures in Brazilian football were pleased to see the game called off with many of their key players banned from playing the match
‘The role of the CBF was always in an attempt to promote understanding between the entities involved so that the protocols could be fulfilled satisfactorily and the game could be played.’
Meanwhile Flavio Bolsonaro, eldest son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted: ‘Argentines played tricks. They knew they were breaking the Brazilian law.
‘PF (Federal Police) has to investigate who did not take action before the game and Argentina should be severely punished.’
How did those four players enter the country?
The Argentina squad arrived in Sao Paulo on Friday and Anvisa explained in a statement that shortly after, they were alerted to some potential discrepancies in the information they had been given.
‘These players arrived in Brazil on a flight from Caracas. The flight landed in Guarulhos (Sao Paulo). They declared that they had not been in any of the four countries which are restricted for the past 14 days. Anvisa was warned about supposedly false information given by these players.
‘After that, Anvisa sent a notification to CIEVS (institution in charge of Covid-19 restrictions in the state of Sao Paulo). We have to clarify that false information given to Brazilian authorities might be infractions of health laws of the country and might be an infraction of our criminal law.’
The four English-based players all left the UK despite the Premier League stopping teams from playing in red list countries
And what is happening to them now?
It appears they have been deported. As per reports from TyC, another Argentinean publication, the quartet travelled with the rest of the squad back to Buenos Aires but the four of them had been classified as ‘deportees’ in leaving Brazil by the state of Sao Paulo.
As Brazil is a red-list country in the UK, the four players in question will have to face 10 days of isolation upon their return. To navigate that law, Villa had reportedly planned for their duo to fly from Argentina to Croatia, where they could train for 10 days before returning to the UK and not have to stay in a hotel.
But now, even that plan appears to have been at the very least thrown into doubt.
Speaking with Radio Rviadavia, Alejandro Martínez , brother of goalkeeper Emi, said: ‘The only thing he knows is that he will not be able to travel from Brazil to Croatia, he is deported and has to go through Argentina.’
In the long-term, it appears the four players are unlikely to face any further punishment than a fine. For Romero and Lo Celso, that will come at club level too as they defied Tottenham’s orders to play for their country.
Argentina’s squad flew back to Buenos Aires on Sunday night after their World Cup qualifier against Brazil in Sao Paulo was abandoned by health authorities
How will the game be played?
The decision is very much down to FIFA as CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body, was at pains to point out on Sunday night amid the drama.
They said that the match referee and match commissioner would submit a report to FIFA’s disciplinary committee.
This was a FIFA competition, they added, and the next step would be down to them.
FIFA said in a statement on Monday: ‘FIFA regrets the scenes preceding the suspension of the match between Brazil and Argentina for the CONMEBOL qualifiers of the FIFA World Cup 2022 which prevented millions of fans from enjoying a match between two of the most important football nations in the world.
The first match official reports have been sent to FIFA. This information will be analysed by the competent disciplinary bodies and a decision will be taken in due course.’
But the global football calendar is packed as it is, and reorganising a game of this magnitude involving star players predominantly based in Europe is a logistical headache at the best of times, without an ongoing pandemic.
The problems in resolving the fixture were kept in mind amid the chaos on Sunday night. As the health officials made it onto the pitch, the Brazilians stayed out on the turf and were advised not to leave so no one could accuse them of forfeiting the contest further down the line.
Brazil’s players were careful not to leave the pitch so they wouldn’t be accused of forfeiting the match as the chaos unfolded in the Argentina camp