SAO PAULO -- A key Brazilian league match was stopped for more than an hour on Sunday after fans fought in the stands, with a helicopter having to land on the pitch to airlift one seriously injured man to hospital.
A doctor said two other fans had been taken to hospital in a serious condition, while another was treated for a minor injury at the stadium, in the southern city of Joinville.
Supporters of Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama charged against each other, and it took several moments for police to intervene. Groups of fans punched and kicked each other until police arrived and fired rubber bullets to contain the situation.
The match, which restarted after about an hour and 10 minutes, was important for both teams. Atletico Paranaense eventually secured a spot in next year's Copa Libertadores with a 5-1 win that consigned four-time Brazilian champions Vasco da Gama to relegation.
Fan violence has been widespread in Brazil this year, raising concerns ahead of the World Cup next summer.
"This is deplorable," Vasco da Gama manager Adilson Batista said. "It's sad to see images like these just before the World Cup in our country. I'm shocked -- this is not sport."
Television pictures showed players yelling at the fans and telling them to calm down. Some people tried to leave the stands to find safety, including a young woman. A ballgirl was seen crying.
"We tried to tell the fans to stop because things would only get worse. We looked at the stands and there were no cops. There was nobody there to stop the fighting," Atletico Paranaense defender Luiz Alberto, who was shown crying profusely as the trouble flared, said.
"I'm playing for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this in person. We will have a World Cup in our country and we know these images will be shown everywhere."
"This is very sad, I've never seen anything like this," Paranaense midfielder Everton said. "One of the fans was alone on the ground and he was being hit for about 10 minutes without anybody doing anything. They wouldn't stop hitting him."
Police were not in the stands when the fighting began behind one of the goals. A police official said about 80 private security guards were on hand to make sure the fan groups remained separated.
"It's a private event so the security was being provided by a security company hired by Atletico Paranaense," officer Adilson Moreira told reporters.
The referee stopped the match just after 15 minutes, with Atletico Paranaense leading 1-0. After the fighting had been contained, a police helicopter landed near one of the goals to airlift the most seriously injured fan to a hospital.
"Three fans were in serious condition, but two of them were conscious," doctor Jose Eduardo Dias told local reporters.