Dozens of fans fought a savage battle on the terraces at a Brazilian championship match on Sunday, interrupting play for more than one hour and leaving at least three people reportedly hospitalized in serious condition.
Shocking television images showed at least two stricken fans being kicked and stamped on by an angry mob of rival supporters during the match between Atletico Paranaense and relegation-threatened CR Vasco da Gama.
A helicopter landed on the pitch and ferried one fan to hospital as riot police entered the ground and fired tear gas to bring the situation under control.
There were no police inside the stadium at the kickoff because a private security company was being used and photographs subsequently showed that the rival fans had not been segregated.
At one point, television images showed a group of about 20 Paranaense fans mercilessly kicking a man on the ground.
A Paranaense fan was attacked in a similar fashion by Vasco supporters, with one stamping on his neck and head even though he appeared to be unconscious. The trouble occurred even though the stadium was half-empty.
“For a country that is hosting the [FIFA] World Cup next year this is very sad,” Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Alessandro told local television. “The stadium isn’t safe.”
“We’re a bit worried,” he added before the match resumed.
The game was held in the small Arena Joinville in Santa Catarina State because Paranaense’s ground is being modernized to host four matches in next year’s World Cup.
Brazilian media said three people were in hospital in serious, but not life-threatening, condition.
Paranaense, winning 1-0 at the time, went on to win 5-1, condemning former South American champions Vasco to relegation. Paranaense finished third to qualify for next year’s Copa Libertadores.
The incidents completely overshadowed the rest of the final day of the championship, during which Vasco’s Rio de Janeiro neighbors Fluminense were also relegated.
Fluminense became the first defending champions to be relegated the following season, despite scoring a 2-1 win over EC Bahia in their final game.