The wildest part of the Brazil match, the classic rivalry of South America, didn’t come during the game. And it was a very good, hard-fought game, which Argentina’s side went on to win 1-0, handing Brazil their first home World Cup qualifying loss in history. But all of that was overshadowed by what happened before the game when police clashed with fans to the point players had to get involved.
It started during the national anthems. Things got heated between Brazil and Argentina fans, leading to some fights. Opposing fans were apparently seated very close to each other with no separation, something that doesn’t usually happen. Fans fighting during a game, however, isn’t that uncommon. What seemed uncommon to those there and viewing at home is that it seemed like Brazilian police were specifically targeting the Argentina fans.
Brazilian police have just recently drawn criticism a few weeks ago for their violent repression of Boca Juniors fans prior to their Copa Libertadores final against Fluminense, which also took place at Maracanã stadium.
As the situation escalated, the Argentinian team, including players and coaches – as well as Brazilian captain Marquinhos – quickly jogged over to the crowd to try to stop the police. One player reportedly went into the stands to help a mother and child who were about to be hit. Videos on social media even showed Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez jumping up into the stands and intervening as a cop tried to hit a fan.
It got to the point where Argentina walked off the pitch entirely.
Later after Argentina beat Brazil, players took to Instagram to celebrate the win but criticized the police’s actions. Captain Lionel Messi was noted as saying, “Great victory at the Maracanã although it will be marked by the repression of Argentines once again in Brazil. This cannot be tolerated, it is crazy and it has to end now!!”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino also released a statement that said, “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.”
The Brazil-Argentina match wasn’t the only South American game where police got involved, in a negative way.
In the Peru-Venezuela match, which ended in a 1-1 tie, Peruvian police were on site to do immigration control. They also prevented Venezuelan players from approaching and greeting their fans inside the stadium. This led to a tense standoff where players were pushed back and arguments broke out.