Brazil new
Argentina's Nicolas Otamendi scores their first goal, the eventual winner, against Brazil in the South American World Cup Qualifiers at Maracana Stadium on Tuesday. Image Credit: Reuters

Rio de Janeiro: Nicolas Otamendi scored with a towering header to give Argentina a 1-0 away win over Brazil in a bad-tempered World Cup qualifier that was delayed by half an hour on Tuesday after police clashed with fans at a sold-out Maracana Stadium.

The long-standing sporting rivalry between two of the most successful teams in world football hit fever pitch after the Brazilian police charged Argentinian fans in response to fighting in the stands during the national anthems.

The world champions, led by captain Lionel Messi, went over to the terraces to try and calm the situation before leaving the pitch and returning to the dressing room for more than 10 minutes.

Brazil's successive loses 

The players eventually returned and the match started in a tumult of noise as local fans roared their support of the five-time world champions, who were looking to get their campaign back on track after losing successive qualifiers for the first time.

Instead, Brazil plunged to a third straight defeat and first ever at home loss in a World Cup qualifier to stand sixth in the standings, eight points behind leaders Argentina and in the last spot that guarantees a berth at the 2026 finals.

SPO_231122 BRAZIL2-1700664729742
Argentina's Lionel Messi and teammates leave the pitch as fans clash with security staff in the stands causing a delay to the start of the match. Image Credit: Reuters

“The truth is that this group continues to achieve historic things, once again,” Argentina captain Messi told reporters.

“Obviously, at the beginning it was bad because we saw how they were beating people.

“You think about the family, the people who are there, who don’t know what’s going on and we are more concerned about that than playing a match. At that point the match was secondary…

Nervy first half

“After that, winning this game like this I think is one of the most important wins that this group has achieved. It is something very nice to be able to win here in Brazil, after how strong they have been at home throughout their history.”

After all the pre-match drama, it was a nervy first half with 22 fouls, three bookings and several skirmishes as rival players frequently faced off and the referee flashed cards in an attempt to calm the situation.

Brazil were arguably the better side and almost scored from a corner just before halftime through a Gabriel Martinelli strike that defender Christian Romero cleared off the goal line.

Despite being without key players like Vinicius Jr and Neymar because of injuries and losing their captain Marquinhos to a leg issue halfway throughout the game, Brazil kept up the pressure after the break.

SPO_231122 BRAZIL3-1700664733155
A pitch invader takes a selfie with Brazil's Emerson Royal. Image Credit: Reuters

Missed sitter

They wasted a golden opportunity to score in the 47th minute when Martinelli missed an absolute sitter, striking a close-range shot straight at the goalkeeper.

Argentina held on and made the most of one of the few chances they created in the 63rd minute when defender Otamendi rose high to power home a Giovani Lo Celso corner.

It was Argentina’s only shot on target and Brazil’s misery was compounded when substitute midfielder Joelinton was sent off for hitting Rodrigo de Paul in the face in the 82nd minute, only three minutes after he came off the bench.

The Brazilian fans unloaded their frustration on the team, screaming “Ole! Ole! Ole!” as Argentina passed the ball around in the last few minutes, an attitude that angered caretaker manager Fernando Diniz.

Messi (right) and Brazil's midfielder Bruno Guimaraes fight for the ball during the qualifier in Rio de Janeiro. Image Credit: AFP

“The fans have the right to do what they want,” Diniz, who was roundly booed at the final whistle, told a press conference.

“The fans are passionate and want to win, so they have the right to boo, but I think shouting “Ole” to Argentina is a bit much.”

Ecstacy to shock

Argentina went from ecstasy to shock after the game when their World Cup-winning manager Lionel Scaloni made the stunning admission that he was contemplating walking away from the job.

“Argentina needs a coach who has all the energy possible and who is well,” Scaloni, who took no questions, said in his opening remarks at his press conference.

“I need to stop the ball and start thinking, I have a lot of things to think about during this time.”