POSTED: August 30th 2008

Golden repeat for Argentina

Medal-winner Messi /
Medal-winner Messi /

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

BEIJING: Argentina underlined the country's remarkably, unending stream of youthful talent by deservedly claiming gold once more at the climax to the Olympic Games men's soccer tournament.

But their 1-0 victory over Nigeria in the final in the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing was not the entertaining classic it could have been because of the debilitating midday heat.

The referee called a drinks time-outs midway through the first and the second half of a match which saw both sets of players slowing up perceptibly and losing discipline and cohesion.

In the end the final was decided by a classic goal from midfielder Angel Di Maria. But the outstanding individual in not only the final but the entire tournament was the Barcelona forward Leo Messi.

As Holland coach Foppe de Haan said after his team's quarter-final defeat: "Even though I was an opponent, every time Messi was on the ball I got excited, wondering what he would do next. He was unbelievably good."

The final was the only soccer game staged in the Beijing National Stadium but FIFA and the IOC may wish to review the timing of the closing matches ahead of London 2012.

In China, the third-place play-off was staged down in Shanghai with a 9pm kickoff on the Friday night which left fans and media struggling to find flights to bring them back up to Beijing in secure time to make the kick-off for the final. At least in London none of the venues will be two hours distant by air as was Shanghai from Beijing.

The Brazilian delegation was not thrilled with the logistical demands. They lost their semi-final to Argentina in Beijing on Wednesday, flew down to the humidity of Shanghai for the losers' play-off - in which they cruised to a 3-0 win over Belgium - and then had to fly back up for the medal ceremony.

South America, with two semi-finalists, claimed the inter-continental honours and were the most determined in their pursuit of gold - Argentina because they were the defending champions (though Javier Mascherano was the only 2004 gold medallist to return) and Brazil because they had never won it.

Yet the Argentinians, for all their style and the presence of Man of the Tournament Messi, were remarkably wasteful. Sergio Aguero should have scored at least two hat-tricks before finally breaking his duck with two semi-final goals against Brazil who were once more victims of their Olympic curse.

They had cruised through their first round without conceding a goal but it was a deceptively easy start. Their failings were exposed by a subsequent failure to impose their law against Cameroon until extra time - even though the Africans had been playing with 10 men from soon after half-time.

Ronaldinho was entertaining on the ball but looked short of fitness while new Milan team-mate Alexandre Pato was a disappointment.

Africa could be as happy as South America after generating a three-pronged presence in the quarter-finals made up former winners Nigeria and Cameroon plus Ivory Coast.

The Nigerians, timing their progress perfectly, improved with every game until, against Belgium in the semi-finals, they peaked superbly. Ogbuke Obasi topped off an energet display in midfield with two superb goals against Belgium while the lanky Peter Odemwingie was a danger off both wings. Unfortunately, he ran out of steam when it came to the final.

Belgium and, after them, Holland were the best of the Europeans from a continent where, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter acknowledged on the eve of the final, "Olympic football is not so big because fans there are spoiled with the big clubs and players."

The 29th Olympiad may have been staged in Asia but not one Asian team - including Australia as members of the Asian confederation - progressed beyond the group stage.

Greatest disappointments were the Chinese themselves who were eliminated in the first round group stage. Their concluding three-goal defeat by Brazil was not as much of an embarrassment as the earlier failures against New Zealand (a poor 1-1 draw) and against Belgium (a 2-0 defeat in which two players were sent off).

Keywords · Argentina · Olympic Games · Olympics · Nigeria · Messi · Aguero · Di Maria · IOC · London 2012 · Beijing · Brazil · Belgium · Shanghai

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