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Argentina wins the gold medal again

August 24, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Lionel Messi has realized his dream. Barcelona's young star, who defied his club team and went to the Olympics despite its initial opposition, has the gold medal that he wanted.

Argentina, inspired by one magical pass from Messi, one chipped goal from Angel Di Maria and some stellar play by goalkeeper Sergio Romero, defeated Nigeria, 1-0, Saturday to retain the Olympic title it won in Athens in 2004.

In doing so, the South Americans became the first team to win consecutive gold medals in men's soccer since Hungary in 1964 and 1968.

"It was tough to get here, but it was worth it," Messi said.

Nigeria controlled the first half and did as much attacking as Argentina in the second half, but could not conjure up a goal.

The loss was the first in the tournament for the Nigerians, who won the first silver medal of these Games for their country but failed in their ambition to match their countrymen of 1996. Then, at the Atlanta Olympics, Nigeria defeated Argentina for the gold medal.

On Saturday, the Argentines came in as favorites because of a lineup that included some of the finest players from some of the top clubs in Europe -- Messi from Barcelona, Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, Fernando Gago from Real Madrid, Javier Mascherano from Liverpool, not to mention Juan Roman Riquelme from Boca Juniors in Argentina.

They started slowly on a brutally hot day at a packed National Stadium in Beijing. Kickoff time was noon, and the 107-degree heat took its toll.

Conditions were so severe that the game was stopped in the 30th minute and again in the 70th minute to allow the players to get some water. Stoppages such as these are unheard of in international soccer and might have been a first.

In the 58th minute, Messi struck. Riquelme tackled the ball away from an opponent and it fell to Messi, who sent a perfect pass upfield to spring Di Maria free and send the Benfica player in one on one against advancing goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin.

Di Maria glanced up, saw the goalkeeper coming out of his net and chipped the ball over his head from 20 yards. It bounced once, on the goal line, and was in the net before the Nigerian defenders could get near it.

Jones reported from Los Angeles.




*--* Medal winners G: Argentina S: Nigeria B: Brazil *--*

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