Uruguay players defend decision to enter crowd to protect families amid Copa America brawl

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Uruguay striker Luis Suárez defended his teammates’ decision to enter the stands following a 1-0 loss to Colombia in the Copa America semifinals, saying the action was necessary to defend families and supporters.

After a physical and emotional game that included seven yellow cards and one red card, players exchanged words and shoves at midfield of Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday night.

Uruguay players, including Darwin Núñez, noticed an altercation behind the team’s bench and about a dozen or so players then climbed into the stands as the melee continued.

Some players were seen throwing punches before Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officers and stadium security restored order after about 10 minutes.

“Obviously when one has your woman, your little child, your father, elderly people you want to go and see if they’re OK,” Suárez said. “Here these things, it’s an image that no one wants to have created but obviously if someone is attacking your family you want to go and defend them. But that doesn’t justify the image that it created. We had to protect our families that were there.”

CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body, said Thursday its disciplinary committee opened an investigation.

“It is unacceptable that an incident like this turns passion into violence,” the statement said.

Suárez said he could see family members and children in the crowd and he worried about their safety. More than 70,000 fans attended the game, and at least 90% cheered for Colombia and wore their bright yellow colors.

“(They) were trapped and things were falling on them and you felt helpless,” Suárez said.

Uruguay’s José María Giménez called the situation a “disaster.”

“Our family is in danger,” Giménez told Fox. “We had to get on top of the stands ASAP to rescue our loved ones with babies. … It’s a disaster because all of the matches are the same. Our families are in danger because of some who drink one or two shots of alcohol that don’t know to drink and behave like children.”

Stadium seating choices for families and friends of players were arranged by Uruguayan soccer’s governing body. More protected luxury suites were an option. The Uruguayan soccer association has not made a public statement on the fight.

“There was some argument in the midfield, and when I saw that happening, I went to the locker room. I thought they were thanking the fans for their support,” Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa said after the game. “But then I learned there were some problems over there, unfortunately.”

CONMEBOL has not said if any Uruguay players face suspension for entering the stands or throwing punches at Colombia fans.

The governing body released a statement after the game saying it condemns any act of violence and that “we invite everyone in the remaining days to pour all of their passion into cheering on their national teams and having an unforgettable party.”

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department has not said whether arrests were made, and stadium officials have not commented publicly.

More security and police were on hand for the Copa America event than a typical home game for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers or concerts. The tournament’s third-place game between Uruguay and Canada is scheduled at the stadium on Saturday,

Suárez added that he didn’t appreciate being taunted by Colombian player Miguel Borja following the emotional defeat.

“Teasing, words, what have you is fine, but what really bothers me is the way Borja celebrated like a fool,” Suárez said. “There’s no reason to do that. When we’ve knocked someone out, we’ve not done that. We didn’t celebrate in the face of the Brazilian players, on the contrary we went and gave them our respect. We all know what it’s like on the field, how we suffer and live a loss and it happens to all of our colleagues in this profession. It’s something ugly, but God is watching and it’ll come back on them.”

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AP Copa America coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/copa-america

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