The football World Cup qualifying match between South American giants Brazil and Argentina in Sao Paulo was halted Sunday after just seven minutes by health authorities from the host country, claiming four of the visiting players had allegedly dodged quarantine and other COVID-19 measures.
“We've been here for three days and you had to wait until now to come over here and do this?,” Argentine captain Lionel Messi asked one of the Anvisa officials who had come onto the pitch to stop play.
Brazil's national health surveillance agency (Anvisa) argued four Argentine footballers had violated anticovid protocols. We got to this point because everything Anvisa from the first moment was not fulfilled. They were directed to remain isolated while awaiting deportation, but they did not comply. They mobilize to the stadium and they enter the field, in a series of breaches, said Anvisa's head Antonio Barra Torres in a TV interview.
The Brazilian official was focused on Argentine players whose professional careers take place in the English Premier League, while the United Kingdom remains within a list of countries with special requirements for travelers arriving into Brazil.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez and forward Emiliano Buendía, from Aston Villa, defender Cristian Romero and midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, from Tottenham Hotspurs were charged with filing false information when entering the country, as they allegedly failed to mention they had been in the United Kingdom.
A ministerial order of June 23 prohibits the entry into Brazilian territory of any foreign person from the United Kingdom, India or South Africa, to prevent the spread of variants of the coronavirus.
Those four players have to be deported from Brazil. They will be fined and sanctioned for a series of sanitary infractions. The first infraction was not fulfilling the isolation, the previous one for not having answered the traveler questionnaire in a reliable way, and now for playing. With more than 500 thousand deaths in Brazil, in the midst of the pandemic, orders are being breached, I don't know whose command, Barra Torres said.
Seven minutes into the game, a group of people who were apparently Anvisa officials walked onto the pitch with orders against the four Argentine players, after which the entire visiting squad headed for the chainging rooms.
The director of Anvisa did not hesitate: The four players must be deported, he stressed.
Created in 1999, Anvisa is an autonomous entity reporting to Brazil's Health Ministry.
The Argentine Football Association (AFA) Sunday issued a statement expressing its utmost “discomfort over the suspension of the match between the Argentine team and its Brazilian counterpart in São Paulo. Like the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), the AFA is surprised by the actions of Anvisa (local health organization) once the match started. It should be noted that our delegation was in Brazilian territory since September 3 at 8 AM, complying with all current sanitary protocols regulated by Conmebol for the normal development of the Qualifiers, the statement points out.
After the report from the Conmebol officials and the match referee (the Venezuelan Jesús Valenzuela), the information will be sent to the competent body of FIFA, in accordance with current regulations, the document went on. Football should not experience these kinds of episodes, which violate the sportsmanship of such an important competition,” it added.
The four Argentine players were finally not deported but instructed to leave the country by Sunday evening, which they did as the entire delegation flew straight to Buenos Aires for the next match against Bolivia Sept. 9.