Argentina captain Lionel Messi says his side’s World Cup qualifier against Brazil “could have ended in tragedy” after crowd trouble at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil captain Marquinhos added that it was a “very scary situation”, with photographs of the match and video on social media appearing to show police with batons clashing with supporters in the stands.
Ahead of kick-off, which had been scheduled for 9.30pm local time on Tuesday, Messi and other Argentina players went to the stands and spoke to fans, before going back to their dressing room. The Argentina players then re-emerged with the match starting almost half an hour late.
“We saw how they were hitting the people, again repressing the people,” Messi said, via Reuters.
“It already happened in the (Copa) Libertadores final (where there were clashes between Boca Juniors and Fluminense supporters and the police at the Maracana). We went to the locker room because it was the best way to calm everything down, it could have ended in tragedy.”
Several fans appeared to sustain injuries during the crowd disturbances.
“We were worried about the families, women and children, that we were seeing in panic up there in the stands,” Marquinhos said.
“Down on the pitch, it was hard for us to understand what was going on, it was a very scary situation.”
In a statement addressing the incidents at the Maracana, the Brazil Football Federation (CBF) said it was standard for such matches organised by FIFA and CONMEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) to be played with mixed crowds.
“It is important to clarify that the organisation and planning of the match was carried out carefully and strategically by the CBF, together and in constant dialogue with all the competent public bodies, especially the Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro,” the CBF said.
“All the planning for the match, especially the action and security plans, were discussed with the public authorities in Rio de Janeiro in meetings between the parties.
“CBF therefore reaffirms that the action, security and operation plan for the match, as approved by the RJ Military Police and other authorities, was strictly adhered to.”
Argentina won the game 1-0 thanks to a 63rd-minute Nicolas Otamendi header. Brazil midfielder Joelinton was sent off with nine minutes remaining and his side were unable to find an equaliser to prevent their third consecutive defeat, which leaves them sixth of 10 teams in the CONMEBOL World Cup 2026 qualification group.
“Obviously, at the beginning (of the match), it was bad because we saw how they were beating people,” Messi added.
“You think about the family, the people who are there, who don’t know what’s going on and we are more concerned about that than playing a match. At that point the match was secondary.
“After that, winning this game like this I think is one of the most important wins that this group has achieved. It is something very nice to be able to win here in Brazil, after how strong they have been at home throughout their history.”
FIFA has been contacted for comment.
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(Photo: Wagner Meier/Getty Images)