Players from Argentine club Arsenal returned home on Thursday after spending part of the night in cells following a bizarre confrontation with Brazilian police at the end of a Libertadores Cup match.
Arsenal, a modest club from the Buenos Aires suburb Sarandi, were in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte for a Libertadores Cup Group 3 match against Atletico Mineiro.
At the end of Wednesday’s match, which Arsenal lost 5-2, various Argentine players confronted military police on the pitch, before throwing seats and other pieces of furniture in the dressing room, according to reports in the Brazilian sporting press.
Seven players were accused of causing the trouble, but the whole team were taken to police cells inside the Estadio Independencia, the Argentine consul in Belo Horizonte said.
“The whole team was there,” said the consul, who insisted that no damage was caused in the dressing room. “The players explained that all they wanted was to speak to the referee, but that their words were misinterpreted and then the reaction by the police was unjustified.”
Arsenal chairman Julio Grondona, son of the Argentine Football Association chairman and FIFA vice president of the same name, was incredulous.
“At one stage, I thought we were in the jungle and they wanted to eat us,” he told Radio 9. “I had to apologize to a guy who was pointing a weapon at me.”
Arsenal were ordered to pay a fine and the team returned to Argentina on the same charter flight that took them to the game, the consul confirmed.
Press reports claimed the fine amounted to about 38,000 reais (US$19,000).
In an interview with Fox Sport, Atletico Mineiro director Eduardo Maluf accused the Arsenal players of assaulting a woman.
“They showed not an ounce of respect and attacked a woman,” Maluf said.
Military police colonel Claudia Romualdo said that she was hit in the chest by one player.
The incident is bad publicity for Brazil ahead of this year’s Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup, with Belo Horizonte, one of the country’s largest cities, a host venue in both competitions.