Violence-marred match hurts Brazil football image

Brazilian authorities on Thursday began investigations into

allegations that security personnel beat members of a visiting

Argentine football club at the halftime of the Copa

Sudamericana.

South American football officials described it as the most

serious incident in decades in the country that will host the 2014

World Cup – raising fears about Brazil’s ability to secure the

event and putting a blemish on the country’s reputation just months

before the Confederations Cup.

Wednesday’s final was called off and Sao Paulo was awarded the

title when Argentina’s Tigre refused to take the field for the

second half of the second leg of the final. Sao Paulo was leading

2-0, with the first leg having ended scoreless.

Officials of the Argentine club said their players and staff

were beaten by security officials in the dressing room area at

halftime and guns were drawn. Brazilian authorities denied,

however, that any weapons were brandished by the private security

guards.

The trouble off the pitch followed sharp scuffles between the

teams at the end of the first half.

The Sao Paulo State Public Safety Department said it would

interview witnesses, players and security personnel, while South

American football’s governing body CONMEBOL said it would also

conduct a ”thorough investigation” into the incident.

CONMEBOL spokesman Nestor Benitez told The Associated Press that

what happened in Sao Paulo ”stains the good image of South

American football.” He said it was the most serious incident of

its kind in 25 years.

Despite that, there was little debate within Brazil itself over

the match – many of the comments posted on Twitter and other social

networking sites hurled insults at the Argentine team for being

poor sports, accusing them of wanting to fight more than play once

they went down by two goals.

Violence is common around Brazilian football – images of police

batting at rowdy fans is common, and fan-on-fan violence has begun

to creep up again after a quiet few years. However, security

personnel getting into a fight with players as is being alleged was

virtually unheard of.

Shortly after arriving back home, Tigre captain Martin Galmarini

described the violence as a ”dramatic, chaotic and hellish

episode.”

He said the team was harassed as it arrived at Sao Paul’s

Morumbi stadium – a common occurrence in South American

football.

”They broke all the windows of the van, hurled rocks and beer

bottles and we are not allowed to warm up on the pitch,” he

said.

The trouble at Morumbi stemmed from confrontations between the

teams following a first half in which the hosts had taken a 2-0

lead after goals from Lucas and Osvaldo.

It was unclear what happened in the dressing room area, but

Argentine and Brazilian television showed what appeared to be

blood-spattered walls. Argentine television also showed several

Tigre staff members with bruises and bloody faces. Brazilian

television showed security personnel that were also bruised and

battered.

”Police entered and struck our players with clubs,” Gorosito

told Argentine television. ”It was crazy. What happened was

crazy.”

A Brazilian police officer who identified himself as Major

Gonzaga told reporters that police were called to break up a fight

between Argentine players and Sao Paulo security guards, but that

that no one was armed and that police did not act violently.

Joao Paulo de Jesus Lopes, one of Sao Paulo’s vice presidents,

told reporters that Tigre players tried to ”break into the

Brazilian team’s locker room and injured some of Sao Paulo’s

security guards.

”We were fighting for 15 minutes with people trained by, and

wearing the colors of Sao Paulo. There was no need to do something

like this. They were winning the match,” said Tigre keeper

Albil.

For Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s leading sports commentators,

Brazil’s image in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup took a hard

hit.

”What happened at the final was a serious setback to Brazil’s

image as host of next years’ Confederations’ Cup and the World

Cup,” Kfouri said by telephone.

Nestor Gorosito, the coach of Tigre, declined to take his team

back on the field for the second half. He said security officials

pulled guns on his players while others clubbed players and team

officials.

”Rocks were hurled at the bus carrying the Argentine players to

the stadium. They were not allowed to practice at the stadium and

the team’s private guards were reported to have threatened the

Argentine players with guns,” Kfouri said. ”These barbaric things

took place all the time in the last century between the 1920s and

1970s. It is a sad return through the tunnel of time to the

deplorable past of South American football.”

He added that it is ”a past that caused European teams like

Milan and Real Madrid to refuse to come to South America to dispute

the Intercontinental Cup” – the predecessor to the Club World Cup

currently being played in Japan.

The chaotic scenes in Sao Paulo, before a sellout crowd of

65,000 at Morumbi stadium, are sure to trouble FIFA – the governing

body of world football – which is already frustrated by Brazil’s

slow preparations to host the World Cup.

Most of FIFA’s angst so far has been focused on getting stadiums

and new infrastructure in place. Now security also looms as a

concern for the World Cup, which will be played at 12 venues across

the country.

Violence on and off the pitch still blights many matches in

South America, with Brazil and Argentina particularly affected. For

the World Cup, FIFA relies on local officials and police to enforce

safety at the stadiums.

FIFA said it could not comment on the incident since it was not

involved in its operation.

”However, for the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World

Cup there will be a comprehensive security concept for the stadiums

in place developed by the Local Organizing Committee together with

the respective authorities and reviewed by the FIFA security

experts” FIFA said in a statement

It added that ”more than 30,000 security officers will be

trained and certified to work during the FIFA Confederations Cup

and FIFA World Cup and that it has full confidence in the security

arrangements developed.”

With the 2016 Summer Games slated for Rio de Janeiro, Olympic

officials also are sure to review the incident.

Romer Osuna, a Bolivian official with CONMEBOL, said Tigre

players were afraid to return to the field after the first half of

play.

”The Tigre people declined to play because they considered

security was not good enough,” Osuna told Fox Sports.

Referee Enrique Osses of Chile awarded the victory to Sao Paulo

after waiting about 30 minutes for Tigre to retake the field.

Sao Paulo scored twice in five minutes in the first half – a

left-footed drive from Lucas in the 23rd and a lobbed shot from the

right wing by Osvaldo in the 28th.

Sao Paulo, one of Brazil’s most famous clubs, is a three-time

winner of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious

club tournament. It has also won the Club World Cup once, and twice

won the Intercontinental Cup.

This was the club’s first Copa Sudamericana title.

Tigre was playing in its first international final and has never

won the Argentine first-division title.

Associated Press writers Steve Wade, Pedro Servin and Graham

Dunbar contributed to this report.