Argentina beat Nigeria to retain Olympic football title

August 23rd, 2008 - 2:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 23 (DPA) Angel Di Maria scored the only goal of the game Saturday as Argentina successfully defended their Olympic football title, beating Nigeria 1-0 in the gold medal match at the Bird’s Nest stadium.A near capacity crowd of 89,000 saw Benfica’s Di Maria latch onto a defence-splitting pass from Barcelona star Lionel Messi in the 58th minute before lobbing the ball over advancing Nigerian goalkeeper goalkeeper Ambrose Vanzekin.

Substitute Victor Anichebe came close to scoring for the Africans six minutes from time, but the forward failed to fully connect with Victor Obinna’s low cross, allowing Sergio Romero to save from point-blank range.

The South Americans just about deserved their second Olympic title in succession as Sergio Batista’s side produced the better chances and in Messi also had a player capable of turning the game.

It was Messi who provided the first opportunity after just three minutes. He found Sergio Aguero in space down the right but the Atletico Madrid striker failed to keep his footing.

Peter Odemwingie tested Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero from a free kick three minutes later while Sani Kaita blasted over in the 12th minute as the Africans slowly found their feet.

As the half progressed, however, both defences began to get on top with chances at a minimum in a game played in the 32-degree midday heat.

Argentina continued probing down the right with Di Maria sending in a couple of testing crosses while at the other end Odemwingie headed over and Obinna had a shot blocked.

The South Americans finished the half the stronger though with their two best chances of the first period coming in the five minutes before the break.

First, Aguero sprang the Nigerian offside trap but the 20-year-old headed over while Vanzekin pushed a longe-range shot from Di Maria around the post a minute before the break.

Argentina started the second half with more purpose. Alguero almost put clear within two minutes of the restart and Vanzekin was again called into action to block a shot from distance.

It was a perfectly weighted pass from Messi that eventually set up the opening goal when he found Di Maria down the left and the Benfica striker finished clinically to make it 1-0.

That brought more urgency to Nigeria’s game, and Obinna should have done better five minutes later than firing a low weak shot that Romero easily gathered.

Nigeria coach Samson Siasia then brought on Anichebe for the ineffectual Solomon Okoronkwo and the Everton man nearly made an instant impact, steering a low cross from Isaac Promise just wide of the Argentine post.

A cross from the right from Obinna in 74 minutes somehow evaded the in-rushing Odemwingie and substitute Emmanuel Ekpo as Nigeria continued to press, but their all-out offensive strategy began leaving space at the back that Argentina, and Messi in particular, began looking to exploit.

With 15 minutes remaining, Messi went on a mazy run before finding Aguero in space but the striker blasted over from the edge of the area.

Messi went on his own two minutes later but an uncharacteristically poor touch from the 21-year-old allowed Onyekachi Apam to clear the danger.

Anichebe’s late effort was the last chance for Nigeria as Argentina ran down the clock to avenge the defeat they suffered in the final of the 1996 Olympics.

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