SAO PAULO: Covid chaos overtook the 2022 World Cup once more on Sunday night as an already-contentious qualifyng tie between Brazil and Argentina in Sao Paulo was halted by health officials.

Officials from Anvisa, the Brazilian health controller, walked on to the pitch at the Corinthians Arena minutes after kick off to stop the game on the grounds that three Argentinian players had broken Covid-19 security regulations.

The Argentina team left the pitch although the two coaches, along with Argentina captain Lionel Messi and Brazilian players, gathered at the side of the pitch in confusion.

Touchline confrontation between health and match officials

Messi, in comments picked up by pitchside microphones, said: “Why did they start the game and stop it after five minutes? We’ve been here at the stadium for an hour. They could have told us.”

The newly-transferred Paris Saint-Germain star then followed his team-mates to the dressing room and, an hour after kickoff, the match was abandoned.

CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation, said: “The referee and the match official will take a report to the FIFA disciplinary committee which will decide what steps to take.”

World federation FIFA has grown increasingly concern at the disruption which the pandemic has brought to World Cup qualifying including both South America and Asia.

The Sao Paulo muddle followed an Anvisa warning earlier that four Argentina players should quarantine and not play in the match. These included three who started the match – Tottenham’s Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso plus the Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

All had insisted on flying to the match, breaching an agreement by all Premier League clubs that no players should be released for qualifiers in red list countries.

Under Brazilian rules visitors who have been in the UK in the 14 days before entering the country must quarantine for 14 days on arrival. The Premier League players clearly ignored the rules.

Economic with the truth

Anvisa had learned that information given on the players’ immigration forms was “false”. Whether this was down to the AFA or the players themselves is not known.

The health controller added: “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.”

In fact no action was taken and the three, along with Aston Villa midfielder Emiliano Buendia, were allowed to travel from the hotel with the rest of th Argentinian squad from their hotel to the stadium.

Argentinian federation president Claudio Tapia said: “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 complying with to the fullest.

“What happened today is unfortunate for football, it is a very bad image. Four people entered to interrupt the game to make a notification and CONMEBOL asked the players to go to the dressing rooms.”

The chaos followed weeks of confused anger in South America at other countries’ regulations which have robbed several teams of key players for this month’s World Cup ties. Brazil were without nine key men for Argentina game.

European clubs had objected that local quarantine rules would mean their players missing important matches on their return from South America. But in barring their players from flying out the clubs were themselves flouting FIFA rules.

ANVISA statement:

On afternoon of Saturday (4/9), ANVISA, in a meeting held with the participation of representatives of CONMEBOL, CBF and  the Argenina delegation, recommended quarantining of the four Argentine players, before confirming that the players provided false information and they unequivocally failed to comply with Interministerial Ordinance No. 655, of 2021 , which establishes that foreign travellers who have passed through the United Kingdom, South Africa, Northern Ireland and India in the last 14 days are prevented from entering Brazil.     

This Sunday morning, Anvisa called the Federal Police so that measures within the scope of the police authority were adopted immediately. 

In the exercise of its legal mission, Anvisa has pursued, from the outset, compliance with Brazilian legislation, which ,  in this case ,  was restricted to the segregation of the four players involved and the adoption of the corresponding sanitary measures.  

From the moment it became aware of the irregular situation of the players – on the same day of the delegation’s arrival – Anvisa communicated the fact to the Brazilian health authorities, through CIEVS – the Strategic Health Surveillance Information Center. 

It should be clarified that players entered Brazil at 8 am on 9/3, providing false information. On the same day, Anvisa identified that the information was false and on the night of 9/3, notified the CIEVS, updated the Health authorities (Ministry of Health and the Health Department of São Paulo).  

On September 4, at 5 pm, a meeting was held with the institutions involved, in which Anvisa and the São Paulo health authority were informed of the quarantine contingency. However, even after the meeting and communication from the authorities, the players participated in Saturday night training. 

This Sunday morning, Anvisa notified the Federal Police, and until the beginning of the game, it made efforts, with police support, to enforce the quarantine measure imposed on players, their immediate segregation and transportation to the airport. 

Attempts were frustrated, since the departure of the delegation from the hotel, and even for a considerable time before the start of the game, when Anvisa had its work delayed within the Itaquera arena.  

Anvisa’s action, in short, was limited to seeking compliance with Brazilian laws, which would be limited to the segregation of players.

The decision to interrupt the game was never, in this case, within the Agency’s competence. However, the roster of players who did not comply with Brazilian laws and the country’s health regulations, and even provided false information to the authorities, did require action from the agency, in due time and manner.

Argentininan FA statement:

The Argentinian Football Association expresses its deep concern at the suspension of the match between the Argentina national team and the Brazilian national team in São Paulo. 

Like the CBF, the AFA is surprised by the actions of Anvisa once the game has started. It should be noted that the Albiceleste delegation had been on Brazilian territory since September 3 at 8 am, complying with all current sanitary protocols regulated by CONMEBOL for the normal staging of the qualifiers heading to Qatar 2022. 

The report from the CONMEBOL officials and the match referee will be forwarded to the competent FIFA body in accordance with current regulations. Football should not experience these kinds of episodes that undermine the sportsmanship of such an important competition.