The World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina at the Maracana on Tuesday night was delayed by almost 30 minutes after clashes between the police and fans in the stands in Rio de Janeiro, with Lionel Messi saying the scene could have ended in “disaster.”
Argentina went on to win the match 1-0 thanks to a second-half Nicolás Otamendi goal that consigned Brazil to their first-ever home loss in World Cup qualifying. Brazil entered the game 51-13-0 in 64 such matches.
Locals and Argentinian fans started fighting during the playing of the national anthems, prompting the Brazilian police to charge the visiting contingent with batons. Fans responded by ripping up and throwing seats at the officers.
Fans near the trouble panicked and came onto the pitch to escape the fighting. At least one injured fan was taken from the stadium on a stretcher.
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) November 22, 2023
Argentina players asked those in the stands for calm before Lionel Messi led them back to the dressing room. Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez raced to one of the rails in front of his team’s fans to ask police to stop the violence.
“We saw how they [the police] were hitting people and many players had family members in that area. We couldn’t focused on playing the game,” Messi said after the game. “This also happened here in the Copa Libertadores. [The Brazilian police] again repressing the people.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino issued the following statement, condemning the violence: “There is absolutely no place for violence in football, on or off the field.
“Such events, as seen during the FIFA World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium, have no place in our sport or society. Without exception, all players, fans, staff and officials have to be safe and secure to play and enjoy football, and I call on the relevant authorities to ensure that this is respected at all levels.”
Argentina told their Brazilian rivals they would only return to the pitch after the situation was calm. They returned after 22 minutes in the dressing room and warmed up for another three minutes before the game was finally started.
“I think we did that to calm things down a bit,” Messi added. “There could have been a disaster. When everything calmed down we decided to ask how everyone was, to find out and then we went out.”
As the match began, dozens of policemen surrounded Argentina fans as they cheered, and even more security faced them on the pitch. Police gathered around the section that can hold about 3,000 fans.
All 69,000 tickets for the match were sold. Brazil fans, who jeered and applauded Messi before the brawl began, chanted against him when he returned to the pitch.
Brazil players remained on the pitch and warmed up while waiting for the Argentina team to return.
In a message posted in his Instagram account after Argentina’s victory, Messi celebrated his national team victory but also condemned the violence in the stands.
“This team continues to make history…Great victory at the Maracana although it will be marked by the repression of Argentina fans once again in Brazil. This madness can’t be tolerated, and it has to end now!!” Messi said.
Before the encounter, many Brazil fans warmed up to the Argentine star, with dozens of children wearing Messi jerseys of his previous club Barcelona and Inter Miami.
Argentina lead South American World Cup qualifying with 12 points in five matches. Brazil are in fifth position. Both teams lost their previous games in the round-robin competition of 10 teams.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.