Kamesh Srinivasan

Nigeria did threaten to score on many occasions, but lacked intensity

BEIJING: Argentina struck in the 58th minute through Angel di Maria and hung on to the goal till the end, including six minutes of injury time, to beat Nigeria 1-0 in the football final and defended the gold won in Athens.

It was the 12th successive win for Argentina after it had lost in the final to Nigeria in 1996.

Though it was not a classy match, played in front of 89,103 spectators who braved the warm weather at the Bird’s Nest in the afternoon, Argentina was easily the better team. Nigeria did threaten to strike on many occasions, but lacked the intensity and the strength of conviction this day to find the goals.

Lionel Messi, the biggest star in the Argentinean line-up, played his part in the match by putting di Maria in possession. The 20-year-old di Maria did all the work as he took off on the left to gently lob the ball over the advancing goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin.

Messi delighted

“We were the favourites to win the gold from the beginning. After our quarterfinal win over the Netherlands, we showed that we were superior. It was a shame that we didn’t play our best game today. But we won and that is the most important thing,” said Messi.

Incidentally, it was Maria who had scored the match-winner in extra-time in the quarterfinals against the Dutch. Argentina had outclassed Brazil 3-0 in the semifinals.

“This is incredible. I think justice was made, because we have a great team,” said Messi quite pleased with the Olympic experience. “I am very happy for all the moments I have lived here with this amazing group of people. Especially, after all that I had to overcome to be able to play here. I am going back to Barcelona with a gold medal on my chest and I am going to work very hard for them this season,” said Messi, whose participation here was in doubt after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Barcelona was not obliged to release him for the Olympics.

Mascherano’s feat

Midfielder Javier Mascherano became the first Argentine in history to win two Olympic gold medals.

“It is a matter of pride. Today we made history as a team and that is what matters to me the most,” said Mascherano.

The Nigerian coach Siasia Samson was disappointed, though not about the 11 fouls that his boys committed with their rough play, as compared to the two by Argentina.

“I felt we played well but we didn’t score. This game is all about scoring goals,” said Siasia.

Crucial

While it was Peter Odemwingie who had failed to come good for Nigeria in the first half despite being presented with many chances, a couple of good shots by Ebenezer Ajilore who tapped wide past a diving goalkeeper, in the second half proved crucial.

Sani Kaita, whose powerful shot skimmed over the bar towards the end of the second half, also contributed to Nigeria’s misery.

Argentina was quite skilful but the magic moments were few and the team could not put together a solid performance befitting its stature and the occasion.

It did conjure up the goal that made the difference between gold and silver.

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