After two rounds of group games, the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League, has been forced to shut down in an attempt to stall the spread of the coronavirus.
And a few hours after the announcement was made, the tournament went to its temporary pause with a bang. The Porto Alegre derby in the south of Brazil between Gremio and Internacional was played for the 424th time -- and the first in the Libertadores. It all proved a bit much.
Toward the end of the match there were almost 15 minutes of extraordinary madness, a free-for-all on the field that resulted no goals but eight red cards, three players and a substitute from each side. At one point it seemed Argentine referee Fernando Rapallini would have to abandon proceedings, but he kept his calm and the final minutes of a 0-0 draw were played out with 16 players on the pitch.
Gremio vs. Internacional is widely regarded as Brazil's fiercest derby. Part of this has to do with the size of Porto Alegre, big enough to support two giant teams but not large enough for three. There is nothing to dilute the rivalry. And part of it has to do with the location of the city in the south of Brazil. It is a Brazilian derby with Uruguayan intensity.
This match, as with so many clashes between the teams, generated more heat than light. There were chances at both ends as the second half opened out, but it was not a great spectacle. And the undercurrent of a loss of emotional control was always present. Players greeted the award of a throw to the opposition as justification for an existential crisis.
In the end, what seemed at first to be a relatively minor flare-up descended into madness. Players, substitutes, coaches were all on the field in a generalized fracas that went on and on, gaining new momentum from every punch and kick.
Some of the players who lost their heads and saw red only recently arrived in Porto Alegre. Even so, they found themselves contaminated by the atmosphere, and laid into the affray as if they had been born wearing the blue of Gremio or the red of Inter.
Afterward, when cooler heads prevailed, some of the players on both sides expressed shame for their actions. Gremio captain Pedro Geromel pointed out that Brazil is living a moment of polarization where dialogue is becoming increasingly difficult. In this context, the players had given a dreadful example.
It was a potent demonstration of the power of collective hysteria. The build-up has already begun toward the rematch at Inter's stadium, which was originally scheduled for April 4. For the time being, though, no one has an idea of when it might take place. In this case, a pause for reflection, whatever the motive, may be no bad thing.