Coronavirus halts South American leagues, as the Copa Libertadores is suspended indefinitely and Copa America is a doubt – The Sun

LAST Thursday there was not a spare seat in the house for the 424th instalment of Brazil’s fiercest derby.

Gremio versus Internacional in Porto Alegre is a Brazilian derby played out in Uruguayan intensity.

This was the first time the two clubs had ever met in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League, and fireworks were guaranteed.

There were no goals. But there was plenty of action, with an extraordinary free for all leading to the sending off of eight players.

This is some way short of the Libertadores record (19 in the 1971 game between Boca Juniors of Argentina and Peru’s Sporting Cristal), but it is unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry.

The match had simmered along all evening, like many big derby games generating more heat than light until a seemingly routine flare up exploded into a full scale brawl, like an old time John Wayne western when everyone starts coming to blows in the saloon.

Most of the players were involved, substitutes lost their heads, the coaches were on the pitch and every time the fighting seemed to be dying down another punch or kick would be thrown and the momentum would build up once more.

The referee waited for things to calm down, conferred with his team, scribbled away his notes and then stepped in and handed out his cards.

Three players and one substitute from each side were banished. An end had come to 15 minutes of madness.


But just three days later, in Gremio’s next game, a new definition of madness appeared to apply. The fact that their local league game against Sao Luiz was going ahead at all now came across as insanity. The entire Gremio team took the field in masks in protest.

Nothing could better illustrate the speed with which alarm over the coronavirus outbreak has hit South American football.

Just over a week ago, matches were going ahead normally, with barely a cloud in the sky. Then, cases of the new disease began to appear on the continent, and, spooked by the Italian experience, prompt action was taken.

Paraguay was the first to declare that games would be behind closed doors. Last Thursday, just a few hours before that Gremio-Internacional game, came a shock announcement.


After that match the Libertadores would be suspended indefinitely. World Cup qualification, which was to have kicked off next week, has also been postponed.

There must be grave doubts about the Copa America, scheduled for Argentina and Colombia this June and July.

Last Thursday, then, Gremio played in front of a packed stadium and no one batted an eyelid. But by Sunday the players were angry that a game was going ahead, even though it was being played behind closed doors.

And on Monday their local league, along with all national competition in Brazil, was suspended.

It has taken South America less than a week to go from full stadiums, to behind closed doors to total stoppage. Argentina is the only country to be playing on, behind closed doors.

But this will surely not continue. River Plate declined to turn up to their game at the weekend. Others will surely follow their lead and with pressure from the players’ union a halt is not far away.

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