Champions Argentina face Nigeria for the Olympic gold medal on Saturday in a match which promises to be every bit as exciting as their previous meeting in the final 12 years ago. On that occasion, Nigeria became the first African team to win the tournament when they won 3-2 with a last-gasp Emmanuel Amunike goal the South Americans claimed was offside. Both teams included players who went on to enjoy successful careers at senior international level. Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti and Roberto Ayala each made over 100 appearances for Argentina while Jay Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh and Nwankwo Kano were in the Nigeria side.
Both teams reached their final with their own brands of attacking football. Nigeria have been exuberant but exasperatingly erratic and their players have been criticised by coach Samson Siasia for individualism. Argentina, led by the dynamic Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero and orchestrated by Juan Roman Riquelme in midfield, have been stylish and are buoyed by their 3-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Brazil in the semifinal. One possible dampener could be the heat as the match will kick off at midday — a hefty price to pay for staging the event at the Bird’s Nest, where athletics take priority. It is another reminder of soccer’s somewhat uncomfortable place at the Games.
Brazil overcame their deep frustration at not making the men’s Olympic football final by putting away Belgium 3-0 to take the bronze medal consolation prize at Shanghai Stadium here on Friday. Goals to Diego and Jo in the first half and a second to Jo on full-time settled the outcome. It was the second time they met in these Olympics, after Brazil narrowly won their opening pool match 1-0, but this time the samba boys were not as laid back. Although clearly demoralised by their 0-3 semifinal loss to Argentina, they had inspirational captain Ronaldinho to re-ignite their motivation with a masterful display in the midfield. The AC Milan star created numerous opportunities through the first half starting with a header that just sailed over the bar in the opening minutes.