Four players on the Argentine side play for teams in the English Premier League. Visitors to Brazil who have been in the United Kingdom within 14 days must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, which none of the four players did before the scheduled start of Sunday’s match. Three of them — Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham Hotspur) and Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) — started the game, with Emiliano Buendía, also of Aston Villa, the fourth.
Officials working for Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, said they had told the players hours before the scheduled kickoff that they had to quarantine instead of playing in the match. Per Reuters, Anvisa learned that the four players did not state the proper information on their immigration forms and had confirmed some travel history details provided by the players as “false.”
With Romero, Lo Celso and Martínez already on the field, Brazilian health officials themselves took to the pitch to admonish them and stop the match. Disorder quickly ensued as health officials, soccer officials and players began to gather around the commotion.
“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,” the health regulator said in a statement.
FIFA later confirmed the decision in a statement, adding that “further details will follow in due course.”
Argentine players swiftly left the field to head to the locker room, though Lionel Messi, Argentina’s captain, stayed behind around the pitch along with each side’s coach and some Brazilian players, to discuss the situation.
“Why did they start the game and stop it after five minutes?” Messi said in comments heard on television, per Reuters. “We’ve been here at the stadium for an hour. They could have told us.”
In the interim, Brazil’s players commenced an improvised scrimmage on the field while the Argentine team waited in the locker room.
By 5 p.m. local time, the match was officially suspended.
“The referee and the match official will take a report to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and they will decide what steps to take,” said the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) in a statement.
Brazil was already down nine players because of covid protocols, while some European leagues and individual teams have prohibited players from heading to South America for key World Cup qualifiers as the pandemic continues.
“I feel sorry for all the sports fans who wanted to watch the game on television,” Brazilian Football Confederation President Ednaldo 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.”
Argentina Manager Lionel Scaloni said after the suspension of the match that he was saddened by the outcome, but is not “looking for any culprits.” He said that at no time was his team notified that it could not play the match. “We wanted to play the match, the Brazilian footballers, too.”
“It should have been a party for everyone, to enjoy the best players in the world,” Scaloni added.