RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Argentina captain Lionel Messi accused the Brazilian police of brutality as the start of their World Cup qualifier against Brazil was delayed by half an hour after clashes between police and visiting fans at Maracana Stadium on Tuesday. Brazilian and Argentine fans started fighting behind one of the goals during the national anthems, prompting police to charge at the travelling contingent with night sticks drawn.

Argentina fans responded by ripping up and throwing seats at the officers as other spectators panicked and came onto the pitch to escape the fighting. One Argentina fan lay on the field with a bloodied face before being taken from the stadium on a stretcher. The Argentina team went over to the terraces to try to calm the situation before leaving the pitch and returning to the dressing room. “It was bad because we saw how they were beating people … The police, as it already happened in the Libertadores final, were once again repressing the people with night sticks, there were players who had families over there,” Messi said in a pitch side television interview.

“We went to the locker room because it was the best way to calm everything down, it could have ended in tragedy. “You think about the families, the people who are there, who don’t know what’s going on and we were more concerned about that than playing a match that, at that point, was of secondary importance.” There were violent clashes between fans of Argentina’s Boca Juniors and Brazil’s Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Copa Libertadores final between the clubs this month. On Tuesday, the Argentina players eventually returned, after police corralled the visiting fans into a pen and the match started after a lengthy delay. Argentina won 1-0 with a 63rd-minute headed goal from defender Nicolas Otamendi and celebrated the victory over their fiercest rivals in front of their fans at the same end of the ground where the trouble happened. It was a third straight defeat for five-times World Cup winners Brazil, who had midfielder Joelinton sent off 18 minutes from time.