Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 on Tuesday in an ill-tempered 2026 World Cup qualifying clash marred by pre-match crowd trouble that forced kick-off to be delayed.
A 63rd-minute header from veteran defender Nicolas Otamendi secured victory for Argentina as the world champions bounced back from last week’s defeat to Uruguay to beat their bitter South American rivals.
The win at Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium leaves Argentina on top of the South American qualifying standings with 15 points from six games.
Brazil’s third defeat of qualifying, meanwhile, leaves the five-time world champions in sixth place with seven points from six games.
“This group continues to achieve historic things,” Argentina captain Lionel Messi said afterwards. “Maybe today wasn’t the most important thing, but it was a nice win.”
Tempers had flared in the stands at the Maracana moments before kick-off, with Brazilian police seen using batons to drive back a block of Argentine fans at one end of the ground.
Several Argentina players went towards the disturbances in an apparent attempt to plead for calm, with goalkeeper Emi Martinez attempting to jump into the seating area at one stage to confront a baton-wielding Brazilian police officer.
Argentina’s players led by Messi then returned to their dressing room as the clashes continued, with Messi appearing to say: “We’re not playing, we’re leaving.”
Messi later explained he had taken his team-mates off the field in the hope of cooling the atmosphere.
“We went to the locker room because it was a way to calm everything down a little,” Messi said. “We went to see how our families and people close to us were doing. And then we came back.”
The 2022 World Cup winners re-emerged onto the field shortly before 10pm local time and the match kicked off shortly afterwards, roughly 30 minutes later than the scheduled start time.
The febrile pre-match atmosphere spilled onto the field when play finally got under way, with Brazil’s Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus being given a yellow card after just five minutes after clashing with Argentina’s Rodrigo De Paul.
The tense nature of the contest continued throughout a poor first half, with neither side creating much in the way of goalscoring opportunities in a game littered with niggly fouls.
Brazil winger Raphinha was booked in the 14th minute for flinging an arm into the face of De Paul, and was lucky not to receive a second yellow five minutes later after catching Alexis MacAllister with a wild studs-up challenge.
Brazil meanwhile failed to register a single shot — either on or off target — until a 38th minute free-kick from Raphinha that deflected wide for a corner.
The only shot on goal from either side in the entire first half came on 44 minutes, when Brazil’s Gabriel Martinelli lashed a muffed clearance from Argentina goalkeeper Martinez back towards goal.
Martinelli’s shot was heading for the net but Argentina breathed a sigh of relief after defender Cristian Romero blocked the effort on the line.
Brazil started the second half more positively, with Raphinha having a shot blocked at the near post by Martinez after 54 minutes.
Martinez then rescued Argentina again, parrying Martinelli’s goal-bound shot after a good run by Gabriel.
But Brazil were rocked after Argentina took the lead on 63 minutes with their first attempt on target of the match.
Giovani Lo Celso swung in an inviting corner from the left and the 35-year-old Otamendi soared above Brazil midfielder Andre to head home for 1-0.
A miserable night for Brazil got worse in the 82nd minute when substitute Joelinton — who had only been on the field for 12 minutes — was sent off for an off-the-ball clash with De Paul.
In other South American qualifiers on Tuesday, Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez scored twice as Uruguay easily beat Bolivia 3-0 to remain in second place in the standings, two points behind Argentina.
Colombia kept up their qualification push with a 1-0 win over Paraguay in Asuncion, while Chile’s problems mounted with a 1-0 defeat in Quito against Ecuador.
Colombia, who failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, are third in the table with 12 points. Chile however are languishing in eighth spot with just five points. In the day’s other game, Peru drew 1-1 with Venezuela in Lima.
The top six teams of the round-robin home-and-away qualifying tournament will earn berths at the 48-team 2026 World Cup taking place in the United States, Canada and Mexico, while the seventh-placed team goes into a play-off.