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‘Dishonest and disrespectful’? Opponents complain about the antics of Mexico and Argentina during half-time during the Copa América

HOUSTON — In many ways it was a footnote to an entertaining night of football. But for Jamaican head coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, the minutes just after 9 p.m. here at NRG Stadium on Saturday were a little more. His players had emerged from their dressing room at half-time of their Copa América opener. They returned to the pitch ready for the second half after a standard 15-minute break, but their Mexican counterparts were nowhere to be seen.

Jamaican players waited for several minutes.

Mexico coach Jaime Lozano later admitted that in those minutes he and his team were assessing the tactics, ‘actions’ and ‘plays’ from the first half that they might need to ‘correct’.

Their long rest led to the second glaring delay in three nights of the 2024 Copa América. On Thursday, Canadian coach Jesse Marsch said Argentina “should be fined” for taking a few extra minutes in the locker room. On Saturday, Hallgrímsson didn’t go that far, but did say: “It’s just disrespectful.”

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“The halftime only lasts fifteen minutes,” he continued. “And if it can take longer, we should at least be given the same opportunity to stay longer. It’s just unfair and disrespectful.”

That was essentially Marsch’s point. “When they were waiting, I knew they were watching video and analyzing how they wanted to play against us,” he said of Argentina.

At halftime both games were 0-0. Both favorites who unilaterally took extra time in their dressing rooms eventually won: Argentina 2-0 against Canada and Mexico 1-0 against Jamaica.

Of course, they didn’t win solely because they had a few extra minutes to prepare, but their delays begged the question: What can be done to prevent smart teams from hanging in their locker room and perhaps gaining an advantage?

The expectations are clear. Halftime is 15 minutes, as in any FIFA-sanctioned match. And Article 104 of CONMEBOL’s Copa América 2024 regulations states that “teams must strictly respect the schedule for the start of the match.” But what if they don’t?

On Saturday, referee Ismail Elfath – who generally praised Hallgrímsson for his play throughout the match – blew his whistle several times and forcefully and irritatedly waved Mexican players back onto the field, while Jamaican players huddled and tried to stay loose.

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At various points, both Elfath and Jamaican players pointed to their wrists and made the universal gesture for: You’re too late.

But neither the Mexican players nor the coaches were ever punished.

In these types of cases, the punishment is usually given retroactively. The CONMEBOL Rules state that “any delay in the start of the match or its resumption due to the delay of one or more teams will be subject to the sanctions provided for in the CONMEBOL Disciplinary Code and Chapter 16 of these Rules.”

In non-legal: the case is referred to a disciplinary unit. They open an investigation. There is a legal process. And a penalty – such as a fine or otherwise – could be imposed.

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A fine, that is what Marsch argued for. A fine obviously cannot help him reverse Thursday’s result. He also said: “I wish the referees would make that happen. … [Argentina] had that time to prepare how they wanted to play against us in the second half, and if we had known in advance that we could get an extra ten minutes, we could have prepared a few more things.

But afterwards – and after Argentina had scored four minutes into the second half – Marsch said: “If we were five minutes late we would get a penalty. There would be a big problem. Let’s see what happens to Argentina. I think they should be fined.”

In Houston, Jamaica actually started the second half ahead, with Mexico close behind. But about 15 minutes into the half, after Jamaica had a goal disallowed for offside following video review, Mexico recovered. Gerardo Arteaga’s goal in the 69th minute proved decisive.

When asked about the half-time break and Hallgrímsson’s comments, Mexico coach Lozano said: “I don’t know if it’s unfair. But we’ve played four or five games and it took me too long .Yes, it’s my responsibility Normally we have some actions, some plays on the screen to correct, or to see what we’re doing right And that’s where I think I went a little bit overboard.

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