Olympic gold once again

BEIJING - Argentina's unrestrained joy in winning a second consecutive football gold medal reflected the absolute importance they placed on playing at the Olympic Games.

BEIJING - Argentina's unrestrained joy in winning a second consecutive football gold medal reflected the absolute importance they placed on playing at the Olympic Games.

While European nations largely devalue an Olympic medal, South American powers Argentina and Brazil, along with African heavyweights Nigeria, threw everything into winning in Beijing.

Argentina had a tug-of-war with Spanish giants Barcelona to release their mercurial forward Lionel Messi for the Games.

The powerful European club even won an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a FifaI rule obliging them to release all Under-23 players, including Messi.

In the end Barcelona allowed Messi to play at the Olympics, reportedly after making a deal with the Argentinian federation.

Messi proved the winning difference as Argentina beat Brazil 3-0 in the semifinals and edged out former champions Nigeria 1-0 in the final to become the first nation in 40 years since Hungary to clinch back-to-back Olympic football gold.

Messi set up the winning goal for Angel Di Maria in the 58th minute, taking possession just inside his own half and putting the Benfica midfielder in a one-on-one situation to chip the goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin.

The Argentina players celebrated enthusiastically after the final whistle and savoured the big occasion of winning Olympic gold before 89102 fans at the "Bird's Nest" national stadium.

Nigerian coach Samson Siasia made no bones about the difference between the two teams in the final played in brutal midday heat.

Nigeria went in with the pyschological edge of beating Argentina 3-2 in the corresponding final 12 years ago in Atlanta to become the first African Olympic champions, but were let down by profligate finishing.

Brazil may be revered as five-time World Cup champions, but they left Beijing once again without an Olympic gold medal.

They had to settle for the bronze after a demoralising semifinal loss against their deadly rivals Argentina and claimed the consolation prize in a 3-0 win over Belgium, who dumped Italy out 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

Yet again football was immensely popular at the Olympics and was watched by a record 2,14 million spectators for the 58 matches in the men's and women's tournaments. - Sapa-AFP

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