Lionel Messi: Maracana crowd violence could have ended in tragedy

Argentina captain speaks out following the ugly scenes in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday night

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Lionel Messi said the crowd trouble inside the Maracana stadium "could have ended in tragedy" after Argentina's victory over rivals Brazil was marred by violent clashes between fans and police.

Tempers had flared in the stands moments before kick off in the 2026 World Cup qualifying match, with Brazilian police seen using batons to drive back a block of Argentine fans at one end of the ground.

Several Argentina players went towards the disturbances in an apparent attempt to plead for calm, with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez attempting to jump into the seating area at one stage to confront a baton-wielding Brazilian police officer.

Argentina's players, led by Messi, then returned to their dressing room as the clashes continued, with Messi appearing to say: "We're not playing, we're leaving."

The 2022 World Cup winners re-emerged onto the field shortly before 10pm local time and the match kicked off shortly afterwards, roughly 30 minutes later than the scheduled start time.

Argentina went on to win the match in Rio de Janeiro – courtesy of a second-half header from defender Nicolas Otamendi – but as Messi said afterward, the result was "secondary".

"It was bad because we saw how they were beating people," Messi, 36, said, adding that the fights were in a section of the stadium containing the Argentina team's family and friends.

"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."

As Messi referenced, the ugly scenes were not dissimilar to the trouble from earlier this month when fights broke out between fans of Brazilian side Fluminense and supporters of Argentine rivals Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores final, also held at the Maracana.

Brazil captain Marquinhos had joined the Argentina players on the pitch in an attempt to calm the situation, and the defender admitted he was concerned about the clashes.

"We were worried about the families, women and children that we were seeing in panic up there in the stands," he said. "Down on the pitch it was hard for us to understand what was going on, it was a very scary situation."

The win leaves Argentina top of the South American qualifying standings with 15 points from six games.

Brazil's third defeat, meanwhile, leaves the five-time world champions in sixth place with seven points from six games.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 9:35 AM