By John F. Molinaro, CBCSports.ca
TORONTO — Leave it to the South Americans to leave soccerfans breathless and wanting more.
Argentina and Chile combined to put on a dazzling display Thursday night, but it was the Argentines who ran out the winners, posting a 3-0 victory in the semifinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
With the win, Argentina, the defending champion, moves one step closer to claiming its sixth world title, advancing to Sunday's final against the Czech Republic in Toronto (CBC, 2:30 p.m. ET).
Chile faces Austria in the third-place game Sunday (CBC, 12 p.m. ET).
The 19,526 spectators who packed BMO Field, having gorged themselves for 90 minutes on the fabulous feast of attacking soccer provided by Argentina and Chile, recognized the efforts of both teams by giving them a standing ovation after the final whistle.
It was the very least they could do because both sets of players were a sight to behold, full of fancy footwork and brilliant skill, while playing the game at a breakneck pace — playing the game the way it was meant to be played.
The only drawback was the performance of German referee Wolfgang Stark, who ran for his life back to the dressing room under a hail of debris thrown from the stands after the game.
Stark handed out 11 yellow and red cards on the night — nine to the Chileans — and Chile's coaching staff had to keep its players from physically abusing the official once the game was over.
Both coaches wouldn't comment on the referee in the post-match news conference, although Chilean boss Jose Sulantay did admit he "wasn't impressed" with Stark.
Still, the Argentines were deserved winners of a game that took place too soon in the tournament — Thursday's contest between what many consider the two best teams in this competition should have been saved for Sunday's final.
Chile was reduced to 10 men in the 15th minute when midfielder Gary Medel kicked Argentina's Gabriel Mercado following a skirmish on the sidelines.
"Despite the red card, we played well against a very good team, but in the end, the advantage was too much to overcome," Sulantay said. "You can't expect to play a man short and beat the world champions."
Chilean goalkeeper Cristopher Toselli gave up his first goal of the tournament but still entered the history books with a shutout streak of 492 consecutive minutes, breaking the old record (484 minutes) set by Brazil's Claudio Taffarel at the 1985 competition in the Soviet Union.
That wasn't the only benchmark to fall.
The sellout crowd helped this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup set a new record for the largest overall audience in the tournament's 30-year history with 1,156,187 fans passing through the turnstiles.
The previous record (1,115,160 spectators) was set at the 1983 tournament in Mexico.
"This achievement is truly something special," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in a statement.
"The way Canada has embraced this event is both a testament to the strength and long-term potential of the sport of soccer in this country, as well as a reflection of the sporting passion in the heart of all Canadians."
Chile finally concedes a goal
The game started with a flourish as the teams exchanged scoring chances within the first 10 minutes.
Argentina's Angel Di Maria flashed a shot just wide of the post and Nicolas Medina's piledriver attempt was palmed away by Argentine keeper Sergio Romero.
After posting five straight shutouts, the Chilean resistance was finally breached in the 12th minute, when midfield ace Ever Banega fed a perfect pass to a streaking Di Maria, who beat Toselli with a one-timer at the near post.
Things went from bad to worse for Chile three minutes later when Medel was given his marching orders for his petulant foul on Mercado.
As the Chilean sulked off the field, he whipped off his jersey and threw it to the ground before entering the tunnel back to the locker room.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Chileans bravely pressed forward and almost tied the game when Gerardo Cortes spotted Romero off his goal-line and fired a long-range effort from the halfway line over the goalkeeper's head and just wide of the net.
Argentina quickly regained its bearings and took control of the contest, frustrating the Chileans, who earned two more yellow cards before the end of the half.
Chile came out with even more purpose at the start of the second half, but the world champions withstood the pressure and put the game away in the 65th minute, Claudio Yacob slotting a pass from Maximiliano Moralez past Toselli.
Frustrated, Chile earned three more yellow cards in quick succession before midfielder Dagoberto Currimilla was sent off for grabbing the referee's arm as he was about to pull out another yellow card — a scene that prompted a Chilean fan to run onto the field to try to confront the German official before being hauled off by security.
Playing two men short, Chile struggled to impose itself and Argentina added a third goal by Moralez in injury time to seal the victory.
"I'm happy with the result, but not so happy with the way we started. We got better as the game progressed," Argentine coach Hugo Tocalli said.
Argentina captain Matias Cahais and Yacob will miss Sunday's final after earning their second yellow cards of the knockout stage.
Tocalli said Di Maria, who left the game in the 51st minute with an undisclosed injury, will likely miss the final.