Players breathed in tear gas during a Copa Libertadores group stage match in Colombia where they were unwittingly caught up in protests against the country’s government.
While Brazilian visitor Atlético Mineiro was winning at América de Cali 3-1, the match was interrupted eight times, as sirens and explosions echoed outside Romelio Martinez Stadium in Barranquilla late Thursday.
That is the same city scheduled to host the final of the Copa America on July 10, and Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a World Cup qualifying match on June 8.
Uruguayan referee Andrés Cunha allowed the match to continue despite complaints from teary-eyed players as police and protesters clashed around the stadium. One of the interruptions stopped the game for nine minutes.
Barranquila authorities said five people were injured in the clashes.
“To play like we did is almost impossible and we have a big frustration for the situation that Colombia endures,” America de Cali coach Jerson González said.
Atlético Mineiro coach Cuca agreed.
“This was the worst thing I ever lived through,” Cuca said. “We couldn’t stay on the pitch because every part of us hurt. The eyes, the throat, the nose.”
CONMEBOL ratified on Thursday that Colombia and Argentina will co-host the Copa America next month. Colombia’s association of professional footballers said it was against playing matches under such social tensions.
On Wednesday, similar protests in Barranquilla also interrupted another Copa Libertadores match between local side Atlético Junior and Argentina’s River Plate. They drew 1-1 as clashes erupted outside their stadium.
Separate demonstrations on the same day in the city of Pereira delayed the start of another Copa Libertadores match. Colombia’s Atletico Nacional and Uruguay’s Nacional drew 0-0 after the start of their game was delayed for one hour.