SAO PAULO (AP) – When organized fan groups of Corinthians tried to keep other fans from supporting the struggling team inside a stadium, police intervened in Brazil's latest case of fan violence.
Brazilians were disturbed by television images on Thursday of police officers hitting fans with batons during Wednesday's match in the Sao Paulo state championship, and a man desperately getting a young girl to safety.
The incident comes less than a week after the fan groups invaded Corinthians' training center and grabbed a player by his neck to demand better results.
It also came the day Corinthians announced that criticized striker Alexandre Pato was leaving the club fearing for his safety. Other players may follow soon, and the team is leading a movement to halt the Sao Paulo tournament with a strike this weekend, hoping to attract attention from authorities, clubs and tournament organizers.
The shocking attack on players on Saturday, when the fan groups damaged property, hurt club employees and grabbed Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero, happened at the same training center which will be used by Iran during the World Cup in June.
It was the latest incident to tarnish the image of Brazil as it struggles to get ready for football's showcase event. The country was marred by fan violence inside stadiums throughout the Brazilian league last year.
''Brazilian football is going through a very delicate moment,'' said former player turned TV commentator Caio Ribeiro. ''And the biggest problem is that we don't see action by those responsible, especially our public officials. We are risking losing the real fans, those who actually love football. They are not going to come back to stadiums anymore.''
The Club World Cup champion just two years ago, Corinthians has struggled recently and it began the year by losing four matches in a row in the Sao Paulo state championship, including 2-0 to Bragantino on Wednesday.
The fan groups, usually at the root of fan violence in Brazil, decided to protest on Wednesday by staying quiet instead of chanting, with some members even putting tape on their mouths.
But the fans who don't belong to the organized groups didn't join the protest and started to loudly support the team.
The leaders of the fan groups didn't like it and started going into the other seating sections asking the regular fans to sit down and be quiet.
''We are not here to applaud today,'' one of the unidentified leaders said in a video released by GloboEsporte.com. ''Please be kind to stop chanting, we are asking nicely.''
Not all the fans complied, and a confrontation began after police arrived to try to clear the fan group members away from the crowd.
The officers used batons against those who resisted. One fan wearing a jersey from an organized group was seen kicking an officer in the back.
Television images showed a man hugging a girl in the middle of the brawl, trying to avoid both the police and the fighting fans. An officer eventually moved them to safety.
Some of the fans were detained.
Just before Wednesday's match, Corinthians announced it was trading former Brazil and AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato to rival Sao Paulo. The move came after the players' agent, Gilmar Veloz, told Brazilian media the striker was not feeling safe at the club anymore.
Midfielder Douglas and striker Emerson Sheik, also criticized by the fan groups, reportedly also were negotiating with other clubs.