Gervinho has the world at his feet

SHANGHAI - He's 21 and terrorising defences at the Olympic football competition, and his name isn't Lionel Messi.

SHANGHAI - He's 21 and terrorising defences at the Olympic football competition, and his name isn't Lionel Messi.

Meet Gervinho, the speedy Ivory Coast striker who loves running at defenders, scoring goals and setting up chances for teammates.

The Ivorian forward with the Brazilian-sounding moniker - his real name is Gervais Yao Kouassi - plays for French league club Le Mans, but Ivory Coast coach Gerard Gili is predicting big things for his striker.

"He will be quite a big star," the former Marseille coach said.

"Soon he will be playing for a big club and everyone will want to watch him."

Gili predicted before the competition started that his entire team would be worth watching.

The Ivorians succumbed to a late goal and lost to Argentina 2-1 after their forwards, Gervinho in particular, had raced past the South American defenders repeatedly to create chances.

Sunday's 4-2 victory over Serbia also was down to their fast breaks, with Gervinho scoring once and setting up two more goals.

Down either flank or through the middle, Gervinho likes to get the ball at his feet and use his speed to push it past defenders, beat them for pace and then go for goal. Neither Argentine nor Serbian defenders could handle his speed and control.

But Gervinho and the other youngsters at the tournament probably wouldn't be getting much exposure if it weren't for the presence of big-name players such as Messi.

The men's Olympic football tournament is largely for players 23 or under, but with three overage players allowed in each of the 16 squads.

That's why 28-year-old Brazil midfielder Ronaldinho, 30-year-old Argentina midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme and 33-year-old Netherlands striker Roy Makaay are also in China to add some luster to the games to go with Messi, Brazil forward Alexandre Pato and Netherlands forward Ryan Babel.

The Olympic tournament and Fifa lost an important battle days before the competition started when the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided that clubs can demand the release of players from the Olympics, contrary to Fifa's own ruling.

Thankfully for the tournament, FC Barcelona still let Messi play for Argentina and German clubs Schalke and Werder Bremen allowed Rafinha and Diego to play for Brazil even though they had won the ruling.

Without them, this competition would probably be overlooked by TV and much of the media. Even the fans might have stayed away.

Instead, packed houses at the 56000-capacity Shanghai Olympic stadium showed up to see Messi and Riquelme and weren't disappointed. But that gave them the chance to also see a new star emerging in Gervinho.

Likewise, the young Italians who have scored six goals in two games have also been in the spotlight. The sellout crowds in Shanghai also saw some impressive left-footed shooting from Zoran Tosic of Serbia and the dribbling skills of Billy Celeski of Australia.

But the Ivory Coast, which has already given the game Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and Arsenal defender Kolo Toure, has stolen the show so far.

Gervinho isn't alone in this Ivorian forward line. Sekou Cisse, who plays for Roda JC Kerkrade in the Netherlands, has scored twice so far. - Sapa-AP