‘Unfair and disrespectful’? Opponents call out Mexico’s, Argentina’s halftime antics at Copa América

Jamaica's Kasey Palmer, top, and Mexico's Orbelin Pineda jump for a header during a Copa America Group B soccer match in Houston, Texas, Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Jamaica's Kasey Palmer, top, and Mexico's Orbelin Pineda jump for a header during a Copa America Group B soccer match in Houston, Texas, Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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

For multiple minutes, Jamaica players waited.

In those minutes, Mexico coach Jaime Lozano later admitted, he and his team were reviewing tactics, “actions” and “plays” from the first half that they perhaps needed to “correct.”

Their lengthy halftime session led to the second egregious delay in three nights at the 2024 Copa América. On Thursday, Canada coach Jesse Marsch said that Argentina “should be fined” for taking several extra minutes in their locker room. On Saturday, Hallgrímsson didn’t go that far, but did say: “It's just disrespectful.”

“The halftime is just 15 minutes,” he continued. “And if they can take longer, then we should get at least the same chance to stay longer. It's just unfair and disrespectful.”

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

Both games were 0-0 at halftime. Both favorites who unilaterally took extra time in their locker rooms eventually won — Argentina 2-0 over Canada and Mexico 1-0 over Jamaica.

They did not win exclusively because they had a few extra minutes to prepare, of course, but their delays raised a question: What can be done to prevent clever teams from dallying in their locker room and perhaps gaining an edge?

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

On Saturday, referee Ismail Elfath — whom Hallgrímsson generally praised for his handling of the match — blew his whistle multiple times and vigorously, exasperatedly waved Mexican players back toward the field, as Jamaica players huddled and tried to stay loose.

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

But neither Mexican players nor coaches were ever punished.

Punishment, in cases like these, usually comes retroactively. The CONMEBOL rules state that “any delay in the start of the match or its restart because of the delay of one or more teams shall be subject to the sanctions provided for in the CONMEBOL Disciplinary Code and Chapter 16 of these regulations.”

In non-legalese: The case gets referred to a disciplinary unit. They open an investigation. There’s a judicial process. And a punishment — such as a fine, or otherwise — could be levied.

A fine is what Marsch argued for. A fine, of course, cannot help him undo Thursday’s result. He also said: “I wish the referees would manage that. … [Argentina] had that time to prepare how they wanted to play against us in the second half, which — if we would have known ahead of time that we could have an extra 10 minutes, then we could have prepared some things more.”

But after the fact — and after Argentina scored four minutes into the second half — Marsch said: “If we were five minutes late, we’d get a fine. There’d be a big problem. Let’s see what happens with Argentina. I think they have to be fined.”

In Houston, Jamaica actually started the second half on the front foot, with Mexico on its heels. Roughly 15 minutes into the half, though, after Jamaica had a goal ruled out for offside upon video review, Mexico rebounded. Gerardo Arteaga’s 69th-minute goal proved decisive.

When asked about the halftime delay, and about Hallgrímsson’s comments, Lozano, the Mexico coach, said: "I don’t know if it’s unfair. But we went through four or five plays, and I took too long. Yes, it’s my responsibility. Normally we have some actions, some plays on the screen to correct, or to see what we are doing right. And there, I think I went a bit overboard.”