Four years after the gold in Athens, another 1-0 scoreline confirmed Argentina as Olympic football champions. In 2004, the match-winning goal had been scored by a certain Carlos Tevez; this year in Beijing, salvation came from above. “Little Angel” Di MarÃa flapped his celestial wings and delivered a fatal blow to finalists Nigeria, exploiting an inch-perfect pass by Lionel Messi. The real star of the football Olympics obviously, was the the little “atomic flea” from Barcelona: Messi was not even supposed to be here (after the Catalan club had won their late July CAS appeal), but in the end he was the first player to raise his gold medal high in the sky, his first big success with the Selección Argentina.
(From Gazzetta): The biggest highlight of the first half, without a doubt, was the time-out given to both teams by the referee to permit them to… drink. As far as we know this had never happened before in an international competition, but was surely a sensible choice given the extreme local weather situation (32ºC with 35% humidity… not too smart to be playing at noon huh IOC?). Needless to say these conditions naturally favored Nigeria more than Argentina, even though the African 1996 champions suffered a bit early in the match and after the “re-hydration” break (when Riquelme & Co. were playing more lucidly).
The rest of the time though, albeit risky, the offside trap organized by African coach Samson Siasia was working perfectly: Messi and Agüero could combine one-touch passes as much as they wanted, there was always one Nigerian defender glued to the Barcelona striker’s backside. As for the work down the wings of Zabaleta, the Argentine full-back was more effective with his forward runs than his crossing, to say the least. Thus, the only “real” Albiceleste chance to make the 1st half highlights reel was a long-range effort by Luciano Fabián Monzón, deflected without too many problems by Nigerian keeper Ambruse Vanzekin. In contrast the Africans were multiplying their runs down the wings, and progressively increasing their passing accuracy in doing so. In minute 34 Nigeria obtained the biggest chance of the half, as offensive midfielder Promise Isaac successively obtained not one, but two crosses from both sides. Alas for his team his finishing touches left something to be desired.
Catching a break at the half, the Argentines tried to “go for the kill” very early in the second, repositioning Messi in a central role in order to make him dictate play better. A move which was immediately going to pay dividends. After two very good chances in minutes 47 and 50 (a spot-on pass for Agüero and an accurate long-range effort, both well-saved by Vanzekin), the pixie from Barcelona struck the dagger deep into Nigerian hearts: executing a perfect pass for Di MarÃa in space, Argentina had their first big opportunity of the match and they were not going to miss it. Just like against Netherlands in overtime, the little Benfica winger did not flinch: a chipped shot over the rushing keeper finally but La Selección in the lead. 1-0 Argentina.
Knowing the final scoreline, it’s fairly easy to guess what happened in the remaining 30 minutes of play. Nigeria were now forced to push forward in order to equalize, giving Argentina acres of space to hit them on the counter-attack. The match suddenly became very vibrant, and although the African team were taking many risks at the back, they were the ones who obtained the most significant scoring chance. Substitute Victor Anichebe notably, was the most dangerous for Nigeria getting behind two very good crossed by Obinna. The Africans were was unlucky however because in both cases, the deflections of powerful center-back Ezequiel Garay and goalkeeper Sergio Romero on the line denied the Everton striker the joy of the equalizer.
Time eventually came to an end, thus giving Argentina a sweet revenge over their lost 1996 final in Atlanta, and re-confirming them Olympic football champions for the second time in a row. For Barcelona this was probably a pretty good operation as well: their star player will now return from Beijing happy, and all the more motivated to win a few extra pieces of silverware this season.