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Messi magic steers Argentina to repeat Olympic gold triumph

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 23 Aug 2008

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Argentina claimed back-to-back Olympic football titles with the winning goal engineered by superstar Lionel Messi in a 1-0 win over former champions Nigeria in the gold medal match at the Beijing Games on Saturday.

Messi disentangled himself from Nigeria's tight marking to put teammate Angel Di Maria clear on goal early in the second half of a final played in sapping midday heat at the National Stadium.

Benfica's Di Maria chipped the advancing goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin to break the deadlock and score what proved the winning goal in the 58th minute.

Argentina successfully defended the Olympic crown from their 1-0 win over Paraguay in Athens four years ago.

Nigeria went in with the pyschological edge from winning the corresponding final 12 years ago in Atlanta 3-2 to become the first African Olympic champions.

But although they kept the irrepressible Messi in check for the most part, he ultimately sunk them with his exhilarating skills.

Messi, who almost didn't play here with Barcelona wanting him back in Spain in time for the Champions League third qualifying round matches, came close to scoring 13 minutes from the end, but was thwarted by a fearless covering tackle from Nice central defender Onyekachi Apam.

Messi again proved a thorn to Nigeria after bringing them undone in the final of the 2005 FIFA under-20 World Cup in Utrecht when he earned and converted two penalties in a 2-1 win.

Nigeria frustrated Argentina's normally free-flowing attacks, double-marking dangerman Messi and protecting their goal comfortably for most of the opening half.

The defending champions began well with Di Maria put clear by skipper Juan Riquelme in the ninth minute and was brought down on the edge of the box.

The Africans came more into the game and Hertha Berlin right winger Solomon Okoronkwo, the only over-aged player in the Nigerian squad, produced some sweet touches to combine well with striker Victor Obinna.

Sergio Aguero, whose two goals destroyed Brazil in Tuesday's semi-finals, was put through by Di Maria but a strong tackle from Apam saw off the threat in the 16th minute.

Messi appealed for a penalty when he surged into the area but it was turned down and at the other end left-winger Peter Odemwingie's header was just over the bar.

The fierce midday heat forced Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai to stop play for a water break on the half-hour and minutes after, Odemwingie skipped around Nicolas Pareja and skipper Promise Isaac just missed connecting with the cross.

The ball came back and Isaac's header was saved by Sergio Romero in Nigeria's best chance of the half.

Argentina didn't get their first corner until the 39th minute and just before halftime Apam again saw off another Messi threat and Di Maria let fly with a fierce long-range volley which just missed the right post.

Messi almost scored minutes after the interval flicking the ball around a defender and unleashing a stinging volley that was taken by Vanzekin.

Apam went into the referee's book for a heavy tackle on Di Maria as Argentina began to take more control of the game.

Messi presented Aguero with a great chance 15 minutes from the end but a desperate tackle forced him to lash over the bar.

Messi had a chance moments later skipping clear after winning the ball in a tackle but Apam saved the situation with a great covering tackle on the edge of the box.

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