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Brazil vs Argentina fan violence explained: “This will end in tragedy”

Brazil vs Argentina fan violence led to the South American international derby match at Rio de Janeiro's famous Maracana stadium being delayed by more than 30 minutes. What happened, who's the blame and how have the fans, players and media reacted? All you need to know below.

Brazil vs Argentina fan violence - Maracana 3
Photo by Icon Sport

Brazil vs Argentina fan violence: What happened

This was a FIFA World Cup qualifier between long-time rivals Brazil and Argentina, the two heavyweights of South American football, being played at Rio de Janeiro's famous Maracana. This stadium has hosted the FIFA World Cup final on two occasions, in 1950 and 2014, and more recently hosted the 2021 Copa America final, where Argentina defeated hosts Brazil.

In an already tense atmosphere, supporters behind one of the goals were seen fighting during the national anthems. It's suggested that Brazilian police intervened to stop reported booing by Argentinians during the Brazilian national anthem.

‘Intervened' is a light word. The notoriously violent Brazilian police, whose behaviour is regularly appaling in the presence of Argentinian football fans, charged in with batons flailing.

Some fans panicked and escaped onto the pitch to escape the fighting, while other more violent fans ripped up and threw seats at the police.

Fans witnessed one supporter lying on the pitch with blood trickling down his face. He was later taken away on a stretcher.

A bloodied fan is taken away on a stretcher Brazil vs Argentina fan violence - Maracana 5
One Argentina fan is taken away on a stretcher after the violence | Photo by Jhony Pinho/AGIF/Sipa USA/Icon Sport

As the fighting continued, Argentina's team tried their best to calm the situation. Captain Lionel Messi and his teammates walked over to the end in which the fighting was occurring and urged their supporters to calm down.

One player went further than that. Goalkeeper Emi Martinez, already a bit of a cult hero in Argentina after his crucial saves in last year's World Cup win, jumped forward towards the crowd as the Brazilian police went in for another round of flailing sticks.

Watch: Emi Martínez intervenes in crowd violence

Argentina's players then went off the pitch for more than half-an-hour while the situation calmed. In this time, the police forced the Argentinian supporters into a more confined section, creating distance between them and the Brazil fans.

Argentina won the match 1-0.

Brazil v Argentina fan violence: Why it happened

First of all, it must be said that incidents of fan violence are never isolated. They are part of wider societal trends and causes and academics have studied fan violence and hooliganism for decades without wide agreement on causes. Some have pursued a psychological route, others economic, others policing, and there's many other avenues explored, too.

However, there is greater agreement on what triggers fan violence, including these factors, among others: the presence of aggressive, heavily armed police; alcohol; a high-stakes match; a rivalry and past examples of violence. All of these applied to the Brazil vs Argentina match.

Just weeks ago, there was major violence on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach when Argentinian club Boca Juniors came to play local side Fluminense in the Copa Libertadores final. Boca had brought an enormous number of supporters for the final, which irked the local Fluminense fans, and clearly the police, who charged onto the beach with a taste for violence once again.

As you'll see below, Argentinians, including Ballon d'Or winner and captain Lionel Messi, feel that they are continually mistreated by Brazilian police.

One other crucial factor was the lack of separation between the two sets of supporters. In English football, away fans – even those with a low risk of violence – are kept apart with a police or stewarding cordon between them. Here, there was no such thing, allowing violence to rumble on until the police came charging in.

Brazil vs Argentina fan violence - Maracana 2
There was very little separation between the two sets of supporters | Photo by Icon Sport

Brazil v Argentina fan violence: What Messi and Argentina said

Messi posted after the game on Instagram:

“This team continues to make history… Great victory in the Maracana although it will be marked by the repression of the Argentinians once again in Brazil. This can't be tolerated, it's crazy and it needs to end now!!”

In a pitchside interview on TV, he said this:

“It was bad because we saw how they were beating people… The police, as it already happened in the Libertadores final, were once again repressing the people with night sticks, there were players who had families over there.

“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.”

Brazil v Argentina fan violence: What Brazil said

Marquinhos was Brazil's captain for this match and was seen talking to the Argentinian players as they tried to calm the supporters before kick-off.

“We were worried about the families, women and children, that we were seeing in panic up there in the stands,” Marquinhos later told reporters.

“Down on the pitch it was hard for us to understand what was going on, it was a very scary situation.”

Brazil v Argentina fan violence: What the fans have said – “This will end in tragedy”


Another said: “Brazilian police is a shame; always the same history. It happened all year and has been happening for years every time an Argentine team plays there.”

Brazil v Argentina fan violence: What the media say

This incident drew major attention from global media, likely due to the size of the game. Many focused on Lionel Messi's words and actions. Local journalists based in Argentina were particularly damning of the police behaviour.

“Something has to be done with Rio and the police,” Dan Edwards, who writes for the Buenos Aires Times, said. “Take games out of the state altogether if needs be, it's just absurd that every big Brazil-Argentina game involves outrageous acts of violence.”

Ultimately there was one other fact to focus on: Argentina have become the first team to ever beat Brazil in an away World Cup qualifier.

Brazil vs Argentina fan violence – key photos


Brazil vs Argentina fan violence - Maracana 7
Photo: Carlos Santtos/Fotoarena/Sipa USA/Icon Sport
Brazil vs Argentina fan violence - Maracana 6
Photo: Carlos Santtos/Fotoarena/Sipa USA/Icon Sport
Brazil vs Argentina fan violence - Maracana 4
Photo: Celso Pupo/Fotoarena/Sipa USA/Icon Sport

Harry Robinson

A freelance writer and broadcaster, Harry has worked for or featured in/on Manchester United, FourFourTwo, The Independent, The Manchester Mill, UEFA, United We Stand and many others. He's the author of The Men Who Made Manchester United and hosts the Manchester United Weekly Podcast and United Through Time. A Stretford End season ticket holder, Harry travels around Europe to watch his team.

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