Lionel Messi believes there “could have been a tragedy” during the crowd trouble that delayed Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Brazil.
Police charged at away fans following scuffles before kick-off in a section of the Maracana Stadium that Messi says contained players’ friends and family.
Argentina captain Messi and his players went over to try and calm the situation before returning to the dressing room.
“It was bad because we saw how they were beating people,” said Messi, 36.
“The police, as happened in the Libertadores final, were once again repressing the people with night sticks.
“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.”
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The trouble began when rival fans clashed in a stand behind one of the goals at the stadium in Rio de Janeiro during the national anthems, prompting police to charge at Argentina’s supporters, some using batons.
Some supporters ripped out seats and threw them at police in response, while others spilled out onto the pitch to escape the trouble.
The Argentina players and some members of the Brazil team walked over to try to calm the situation, with Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez trying to grab a baton out of a police officer’s hand.
The players eventually left the field before returning after police had gathered the Argentina fans into a separate section of the stand and the game was able to begin after 30-minute delay.
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The trouble unfolded a fortnight after scuffles between fans of Brazilian side Fluminense and Argentine club Boca Juniors before the Copa Libertadores final – the South American equivalent of the Champions League final – which was also staged at the Maracana.
Brazil captain Marquinhos, who joined the Argentina players on the pitch calling for calm in the stands, added: “We were worried about the families, women and children that we were seeing in panic up there in the stands.
“Down on the pitch it was hard for us to understand what was going on, it was a very scary situation.”
World champions Argentina won 1-0 thanks to a goal from former Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi.
Newcastle United midfielder Joelinton was sent off for Brazil, who lost a home World Cup qualifier for the first time.
The five-time World Cup winners have now lost three successive qualifiers to sit sixth in the South American qualifying table, eight points behind leaders Argentina and in the last spot that guarantees a place at the 2026 finals.