SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - Brazil's World Cup qualifying match against Argentina was dramatically suspended shortly after it began Sunday as controversy over COVID-19 protocols erupted.
The match at Sao Paulo's Neo Quimica Arena between the two giants of South American football came to a halt when a group of Brazilian public health officials came onto the pitch, triggering a melee involving team staff and players.
Argentina's players trudged off the pitch to the locker room as the furor raged. Argentina captain Lionel Messi later re-emerged from the tunnel without his team shirt on as confusion swept around the stadium.
The stunning intervention came just hours after Brazil's health authorities said four players in Argentina's squad based in England should be placed in "immediate quarantine" for breaching COVID-19 protocols.
According to Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), Premier League players Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa) and Cristian Romero (Tottenham) provided "false information" upon their entry to Brazil.
Romero, Lo Celso and Martinez were all in the Argentina starting lineup that kicked off Sunday's game, triggering the intervention onto the field of officials wearing ANVISA shirts.
The four Premier League players were accused of failing to disclose that they had spent time in the United Kingdom in the 14 days prior to their arrival.
"We got to this point because everything that ANVISA directed, from the first moment, was not fulfilled," ANVISA director Antonio Barra Torres said on Brazilian television.
"(The four players) were directed to remain isolated while awaiting deportation, but they did not comply. They went to the stadium and they entered the field, in a series of breaches," the official added.
A government order dating from 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.
"ANVISA considers that this situation represents a serious health risk and recommends that the local health authorities (of Sao Paulo) order the immediate quarantine of the players, who are prohibited from taking part in any activity and from remaining on Brazilian territory," the agency said in a statement earlier Sunday.
ANVISA said Brazil's Federal Police had been notified so that "the necessary measures are taken immediately."
Brazilian website Globoesporte said the Argentina Football Association (AFA) could request an exceptional authorization from authorities in Sao Paulo to allow the players to take the field against Brazil.
The controversy comes after nine Brazilians based in the Premier League failed to travel to South America following objections from their clubs.
Source: Voice of America