A key Brazilian league match was stopped for more than an hour Sunday after fans started fighting in the stands and a helicopter had to land on the pitch to airlift a seriously injured man. A doctor said two other fans were hospitalised in serious condition and one was treated for a minor injury at the stadium in the southern city of Joinville.
Supporters from Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama charged against each other and it took several moments for police to intervene. Groups of fans punched and kicked each other several times until police arrived and fired rubber bullets to contain the situation.
The match, which restarted after about an hour and 10 minutes, was important for both teams as Atletico Paranaense is trying to secure a spot in next year's Copa Libertadores and Vasco da Gama, a four-time Brazilian champion, is trying to avoid relegation.
Fan violence has been rampant in Brazil this year, raising concerns ahead of the World Cup.
"This is deplorable," said Vasco da Gama coach Adilson Batista. "It's sad to see images like these just before the World Cup in our country. I'm shocked, this is not sport."
Television images showed players yelling at the fans and telling them to calm down. Some players put their hands on their heads as they watched the fight. A few fans tried to leave the stands to find safety, including a young woman. A ball girl was shown crying.
"We tried to tell the fans to stop because things would only get worse. We looked at the stands and there were no cops. There was nobody there to stop the fighting," said Atletico Paranaense defender Luiz Alberto, who was shown crying profusely as the altercation was taking place. "I'm playing for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this in person. We will have a World Cup in our country and we know these images will be shown everywhere."
One Atletico Paranaense supporter was caught in the middle of several Vasco da Gama fans and was hit several times. A Vasco supporter also became separated from his group and was attacked by rivals.
"This is very sad, I've never seen anything like this," Atletico Paranaense midfielder Everton said. "One of the fans was alone on the ground and he was being hit for about 10 minutes without anybody doing anything. They wouldn't stop hitting him."
Police were not in the stands when the fighting bagan behind one of the goals in the stadium. A police official said about 80 private security guards were on hand to make sure the fan groups remained separated.
"It's a private event so the security was being provided by a security company hired by Atletico Paranaense," officer Adilson Moreira told reporters.
The referee stopped the match just after 15 minutes, with Atletico Paranaense leading 1-0. After the fighting was over, a police helicopter landed near one of the goals to airlift the most seriously injured fan to a hospital.
"Three fans were in serious condition, but two of them were conscious," doctor Jose Eduardo Dias told local reporters.
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