Brazil v Argentina: Why was it cancelled? Manager and president speak out, Lionel Messi has say, simmering row over player availability

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni and the president of its football federation Claudio Tapia have spoken out after their World Cup qualifier against Brazil was called off over an alleged coronavirus breach.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 05: Lionel Messi of Argentina and Neymar Jr. of Brazil talk to health authorities as the match is delayed during a match between Brazil and Argentina as part of South American Qualifiers for Qatar 2022 at Arena Corinthians on September 05, 2021 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

The match in Sao Paulo was halted after just eight minutes amid extraordinary scenes as officials stormed on to the pitch over an claimed contravention of rules by the Argentina’s England-based players.

The Argentina team, who arrived in Brazil from Venezuela after a match in Caracas on Friday, responded to the entrance of officials believed to be from Brazil's health authority and the police by walking off the pitch and down the tunnel.

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According to ANVISA, the Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency, Argentina's four Premier League players – Tottenham's Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso and Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia – are alleged to have declared false information on official forms to the country's authorities and in doing so broken quarantine rules.

Messi was not impressed with the situation and questioned why it took three days to alert Argentina to any complications.

The Spurs pair and Martinez started Sunday night's match, which was halted shortly after kick-off. Buendia was not in the matchday 23.

Scaloni feels the authorities should not have come on to the pitch to remove the players and insisted that he and his squad were not told they couldn’t play the match.

The manager’s viewpoint

“It makes me very sad,” Scaloni said.

Argentina's football team bus leaves the Neo Quimica Arena, also known as Corinthians Arena, after the suspension of the match.

“I am not looking for any culprits. Whether or not something happened, 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 game, the players from Brazil too.”

The Brazil players have a training session after the match was interrupted.

The president is not happy

Tapia was clearly angered by the situation, claiming that Argentina fully complied with health regulations.

“What happened today is a very bad image,” said Tapia. “Four people entered to interrupt the game and CONMEBOL [South American football’s governing body] asked the players to go back to the dressing room.

“You cannot talk about any lie here because there is health legislation under which all South American tournaments are played. The health authorities of each country approved a protocol that we have been fully complying with.”

The match between Brazil and Argentina only lasted eight minutes.

Statements and awaiting a report

Conversely, ANVISA stated the players in question declared they had not passed through the UK in the last 14 days, which would have necessitated quarantining on arrival.

"After a meeting with the health authorities, it was confirmed, after consulting the passports of the four players involved, that the athletes failed to comply with the rule for the entry of travellers on Brazilian soil," an ANVISA statement said.

"ANVISA considers the situation a serious health risk, and therefore advised the local health authorities to determine the immediate quarantine of players, who are prevented from participating in any activity and must be prevented from remaining in Brazilian territory."

CONMEBOL announced on Twitter that the match had been suspended on the decision of the referee and that the referee and match delegate would now provide a report for FIFA's disciplinary committee, which would decide what action to take.

Messi has his say

Video footage showed Lionel Messi, bizarrely wearing an official photographer's bib, talking with officials and Brazil players.

Brazilian and Argentinian media quoted him as saying: "We have been here for three days. Did you wait for the game to start? Why didn't you warn us before?"

But ANVISA chief executive Antonio Barra Torres told Brazilian TV station Globo: "We reached this point because everything that ANVISA guided, from the first moment, was not fulfilled.

"They [the players] were instructed to remain isolated to await deportation. But it was not fulfilled. They moved to the stadium, entered the field, there is a sequence of non-compliances."

‘Deep discomfort’

The Argentina national team posted a picture to Twitter of squad members on a plane on Sunday captioned "We're going home!"

The Argentine FA said it had "deep discomfort" surrounding the suspension of the match.

In a statement, it added: "Like the CBF, the AFA is surprised by the actions of ANVISA once the game started.

"It should be noted that the Albiceleste Delegation was in Brazilian territory since September 3 at 8am, complying with all current sanitary protocols regulated by CONMEBOL for the normal progression of the Qualifiers heading to Qatar 2022."

Brazilian FA ‘wanted earlier resolution’

The Brazilian FA were less that impressed with what happen, with Brazilian Football Confederation president Ednaldo Rodrigues criticising Anvisa and saying officials told him the Argentina players who breached the country's COVID-19 rules could have been deported after the game.

“I feel sorry for all the sports fans who wanted to watch the game on television,” Rodrigues told Brazil’s Sportv. “With all due respect to Anvisa, they could have resolved this earlier and not waited for the game to start.”

Row has been simmering

The call-off comes amid heightened tensions in South America due to rules which have denied several teams of key players for this month’s three World Cup qualifiers.

Brazil were without nine usual squad members for the for Argentina game and other South American sides have also lost players due to a decision by some European clubs not to let their players travel to the continent.

Due to health protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, players that represent their countries in certain parts of the world, including South America, would have had to quarantine when they returned to Europe and the clubs do not want to lose their players for important domestic and European matches, with the Champions League beginning on Tuesday, September 14.

State of play on the pitch

Four other matches were completed on Sunday, with Uruguay defeating Bolivia 4-2 in Montevideo, Peru overcoming Venezuela 1-0 in Lima, Paraguay and Colombia drawing 1-1 in Asuncion and ten-man Ecuador being held to a goalless draw by Chile in Quito.

Brazil lead the South American qualifying group for Qatar 2022, six points ahead of second-placed Argentina, with Ecuador third and Uruguay fourth after eight rounds of fixtures. The top four qualify automatically for Qatar, while the fifth-placed team – currently Colombia – face a play-off with a country from the Asian qualification pools.

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