By Ramiro Scandolo
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – One of the players at the centre of Sunday’s cancelled Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier has recalled the farcical scenes in Sao Paulo and what he said was despair at the thought of being obliged to stay in Brazil for 14 days of quarantine.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was one of four English Premier League players in the Argentina squad for the game away to arch-rivals Brazil.
The match was suspended https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/four-argentine-players-told-isolate-hours-before-brazil-game-2021-09-05 minutes after kick off when officials from Brazil’s health regulator came onto the pitch to stop the England-based players from playing because, according to the body, they had not completed the required 14-day quarantine on arrival in Sao Paulo.
Martinez told reporters none of the Argentina players sheltering in the dressing room knew what was going on as officials at the side of the pitch discussed whether or not the match could continue.
“We spent half an hour waiting to see if we could restart but after 40 minutes they told us we had to leave,” he said in Buenos Aires. “Then there was this despair, if I’d have to stay with the England lads for 14 days. It was all so uncertain.
“We didn’t understand what was going on,” he added.
Martinez plus Tottenham Hotspur defender Cristian Romero and midfielder Giovani Lo Celso were on the Neo Quimica Arena pitch as part of the Argentina lineup, while Villa midfielder Emiliano Buendia was in the stands.
“Obviously there had been rumours that the Premier League players wouldn’t play in the game but they would have told us when we arrived in Brazil and so we didn’t make any big show about cancelling the match,” said Martinez.
“It was simple, we were going to win and we felt good.”
The Argentina squad were allowed to fly to Buenos Aires on Sunday night and Martinez and fellow Villa player midfielder Emiliano Buendia were released on Monday morning and permitted to rejoin their club.
“Villa did not understand why it happened, but everyone saw it,” Martinez said before flying out. “It was supposed to be a great game for us to enjoy, not a spectacle.”
The farcical scenes were an embarrassment for South American football and came at the end of a turbulent week.
Some European sides had stopped their players travelling to South America because they would have to quarantine on return and potentially miss important club matches.
Brazil were without nine key players, and other nations, Paraguay and Uruguay among them, also had some players missing.
But Martinez, who established himself as first choice during Argentina’s triumphant Copa America campaign in June and July, said there was no way he would have given up playing for his country.
“The four from England decided to go because we love the shirt,” he said. “No matter how much the Premier League (players) didn’t want to come, we decided we were going anyway. Because after the Copa America, everyone wanted to be there.
“It’s something beautiful and we must live with the consequences. On a personal level I needed to play these games.”
Brazil lead the South American qualifying group for Qatar 2022, six points ahead of second-placed Argentina. The top four qualify automatically for the World Cup.
(Reporting by Ramiro Scandolo; writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ken Ferris)