We Went to a Riot and a Soccer Game Broke Out
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We Went to a Riot and a Soccer Game Broke Out

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Torontoist was at last night’s Under-20 World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Chile at BMO Field and left wondering: “How did a riot not break out?” Well, as it turns out, a riot of sorts did break out after the game, when members of the Chilean team confronted a group of policemen. Reports of taser guns being used have yet to be confirmed, although eyewitnesses swear it happened.
How did it all go so wrong? The obvious explanation is that the German referee, Wolfgang Stark, lost control of the match inside the opening fifteen minutes when he sent off the Chilean player Gary Medel for aiming a kick at an opponent. Torontoist was seated directly in front of where the incident occurred; it was obvious that (a), no contact occurred, but that (b), it was a stupid move on Medel’s part. Still, Torontoist had to groan when Stark reached for his back pocket and produced a red card. A more sensible referee would’ve taken Medel aside, admonished him and given him a yellow. Clearly, Stark isn’t that sensible. In one fell swoop, the match was turned on its head. The Chilean players felt righteously aggrieved—their anger festered as one decision after another went again them (a second Chilean saw red later on), while Argentina’s theatrics (je t’accuse, Pablo Piatti!) swayed neutrals in the crowd over to the Chilean cause.
Still, there’s feeling aggrieved by a referee’s decision…and then there’s confronting the referee after the match, thereby forcing him and his crew to sprint off the field under police escort, before turning the CNE grounds into a mini version of South Central. (All told, nine Chilean players were taken into police custody; all nine were eventually released.) Torontoist is not excusing their actions—it would be difficult to do so and retain any integrity—but does feel compelled to at least trying to explain them. Soccer breeds passion; passion can sometimes breed insanity, especially when the stakes are as high as they were yesterday (a berth in a major international final, not to mention regional bragging rights). Wolfgang Stark needed to recognize this. He also needed to know that he was refereeing younger players, who were evidently more susceptible to the occasion than the 20,000 people in the stands. Did Medel need to be sent off? Maybe—and if this were any other game, then he probably did. Still, in this case leniency was order. Stark was not, and he lost control of the match as a result. Things got out of hand and escalated into madness.
Which still doesn’t exonerate the Chileans. Soccer doesn’t need these sorts of headlines if it’s going to thrive in North America. Unfortunately, after yesterday’s match, negative press is unavoidable. It’s a regretable end to an otherwise excellent tournament.
Photo by ChrisFizik from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

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