In 1946, Brazil and Argentina played out a Copa América game that lasted for seven hours. The reason for the drawn-out match was a challenge by Brazil’s Jair on Salomón, which left the Argentinean with a broken leg. Over 10 years in the Copa América the two sides alternated: either one or the other would go in studs up, during a time when they met so frequently. There was always a burning ember. When I started to go to football matches in Spain, I often came across two rival players who would dish out terrible tackles. It was always an Argentinean and a Brazilian. They are irreconcilable and are battling for South American supremacy. Argentina hold the advantage in the Copa, 11-7, but Brazil have chalked up a staggering 5-2 balance in World Cups.
With that as a backdrop, we come to this week. The Premier League did not allow its Brazilian players to travel to the World Cup qualifier in São Paulo as they would have been subject to a 14-day quarantine on their return under UK coronavirus regulations. Argentina reached an agreement that their players would be excused two Premier League games, with the guarantee they would be in a covid bubble while on international duty. Meanwhile, Brazil has imposed a reciprocal quarantine on UK residents: anyone travelling from Britain to Brazil also has to undergo quarantine. The four Premier League players found themselves in this situation and falsified their details on the relevant forms when arriving in the country, stating they had been outside the UK for longer than was the case.
But the Brazilian authorities were not to be taken for fools and in between the Argentina squad arriving and the date of the game they checked the veracity of the Premier League players’ claims and found they had played in England just a few days beforehand. As a result, the Brazilian heath authority ANVISA halted the game and walked on to the pitch to remove the players in question, in front of millions and millions of television viewers worldwide. CONMEBOL, which had given the game the go-ahead, was shocked to the core. Who would have thought that Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which has been so contemptuous of the pandemic, would have acted with such decisiveness on the matter? Brazil has displayed remarkable pettiness over the issue, but the Argentineans did something unprecedented in football by giving false information on their arrival documentation. Now FIFA has a hot potato to handle. In South American football, anything is possible.