Lionel Messi said the match become of ‘secondary importance’ after violence broke out (REUTERS)
Lionel Messi said there “could have been a tragedy” after police clashed with fans during Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against rivals Brazil at the Maracana in Rio.
The match was delayed by half an hour following crowd trouble in the stands, which started before kick-off and during the national anthems. In response, Brazilian police charged at the Argentina fans, with the fighting taking place in a section of the stadium that contained the visiting players’ families and friends.
Some Argentina supporters ripped up seats to throw at the police, who were wielding batons, while others attempted to escape the scene.
Led by Messi, the Argentina players went over to try and calm the situation. Images showed the Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez trying to grab a baton from a police officer’s hand as the Argentina players appealed for the fighting to stop.
Argentina players went to the away fans and appealed for calm (REUTERS)
Goalkeeper Martinez attemps to grab a police officer’s baton (REUTERS)
Messi and the Argentina then left the pitch as the match was delayed (REUTERS)
The World Cup winners then left the pitch and returned to the dressing room for more than 10 minutes. When the match eventually resumed, Argentina won a bad-tempered qualifier 1-0 to leave Brazil in crisis after suffering their third straight defeat.
The clashes in the stands occurred just two weeks after similar scenes at the Copa Libertadores final between Brazilian side Fluminense and Argentine giants Boca Juniors, which was also held at the iconic Maracana stadium.
“It was bad because we saw how they were beating people,” Messi told reporters after the match. “The police, as happened in the Libertadores final, were once again repressing the people with night sticks.
“We went to the locker room because it was the best way to calm everything down, it could have ended in tragedy.
“You think about the families, the people who are there, who don’t know what’s going on and we were more concerned about that than playing a match that, at that point, was of secondary importance.”
The Argentina players were joined by Brazil captain Marquinhos as they appealed for calm in the stands. The defender said: “We were worried about the families, women and children that we were seeing in panic up there in the stands.
“Down on the pitch it was hard for us to understand what was going on, it was a very scary situation.”
On the pitch, Argentina took a huge step towards qualifying for the 2026 World Cup as Nicolas Otamendi’s header secured a 1-0 win, but the match was littered with fouls, skirmishes and cards. Brazil finished with 10 men after Newcastle’s Joelinton was sent off for hitting Argentina’s Rodrigo de Paul in the face.
Brazil have now lost successive matches to Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina and are eight points behind the world champions in the qualifying table. The five-time World Cup winners sit sixth, which is the last spot that guarantees qualifying for the finals, after six rounds.