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Argentina, Brazil fans brawl with police before World Cup qualifier

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Violence threatened to overshadow a historic World Cup qualifier as police clashed with unruly fans. The Brazil vs. Argentina match witnessed a 30-minute delay as police corralled fans at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium on Tuesday, Nov 21.

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Fan altercations erupted during the playing of the national anthem, leading Brazilian police to intervene with batons in the away section.

Argentina's Lionel Messi leaves the field after a fight between Brazilian and Argentinian fans broke out in the stands prior to a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)
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Captain Lionel Messi led Argentina off the pitch in an attempt to calm tensions in the stands. After more than 10 minutes, the players returned, and the match was allowed to start.

Nicolas Otamendi clinched a 1-0 victory for Argentina in the contentious World Cup qualifier at the sold-out Maracana Stadium in Brazil, attended by 69,000 fans. This marks Brazil’s third consecutive defeat and its first-ever home loss in a World Cup qualifier.

A woman tries to protect children after a fight between Brazilian and Argentina fans at the stands prior to a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
AP Images

“The truth is that this group continues to achieve historic things, once again,” Messi told reporters. “Obviously, at the beginning it was bad because we saw how they were beating people. 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.”

Col. Vagner Ferreira, the highest-ranking police officer in the stadium, blamed organizers for the lack of a barrier between home and visiting fans. He defended the actions of police.

“Every action demands a reaction,” Ferreira told TV channel SporTV. “There is a history of confrontation here. At first we spoke to them. Then, we had to use our batons. There was no lethal force involved, no rubber bullets, no tear gas. This was a very technical approach.”

Players of Argentina try to calm the crowd after a fight between Brazilian and Argentinian fans broke out in the stands prior to a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
AP Images

“Beyond the match… I don’t know which words to use, I don’t know which word because I don’t want to be rude but it’s very ugly to see that happen,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Whether it’s an Argentinian or a Brazilian, it’s very ugly and some (of our players) had family there, they didn’t know if they were there. To play a match in these conditions was difficult.”

Brazilian coach Fernando Diniz echoed his rival coach.

“It’s regrettable and we hope that the fans will be more understanding about coming to the stadium to cheer, that the public authorities will also take care of these situations, that they can act preventively so that scenes like the ones that happened today don’t happen,” Diniz said.

Brazilian and Argentinians fans fight at the stands prior to a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 between Brazil and Argentina at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
AP Images
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