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Messi makes the most of first Olympics

Messi makes the most of first Olympics

Lionel Messi was almost sent home before the Olympics even began. Now he leaves Beijing with the football gold medal around his neck.
After surviving the threat of being pulled out from the games because of a club dispute, Messi set up Angel Di Maria's winner in the 58th minute to help Argentina beat Nigeria 1-0 and win its second consecutive gold medal on Saturday.
It wasn't the greatest performance for Messi in the final, but he was the most dangerous player for Argentina throughout the match in front of nearly 90,000 at the Bird's Nest. The crowd cheered loudly as he was substituted just before the final whistle, with the match all but won.
Messi came back onto the field when it was over, joining his teammates at midfield to celebrate, jumping and chanting together.
"This group deserved this," Messi said. "We knew coming in that we may never have this experience again, so we are lucky that everything went well and we got what we wanted."
Messi was involved in a controversy just before the Olympics was to start and almost wasn't allowed to play. His club, FC Barcelona, was one of three European sides that won a court ruling the day before the tournament's opening match authorizing them to call their players back from the competition.
Messi threatened to remain in China with Argentina even if Barcelona refused to let him stay, but both parts eventually reached an agreement. The playmaker got to start in the team's opener against Ivory Coast, scoring one of Argentina's goals in the 2-1 win.
"It was tough to get here, but it was worth it," Messi said. "I knew before coming that it would be worth it. At the end everything turned out fine even after everything that was talked about, things that were not right. But we are not going to look back now."
He didn't score on Saturday, but was crucial for the team's win. Messi controlled the ball just before the midfield line before sending a perfect through ball to Di Maria, who reached the pass on stride to fire a lob shot over Nigeria goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin.
"I think he has played very well in the Olympic tournament and has improved with each game," Argentina coach Sergio Batista said of Messi.
"He's played very well today as he normally does in his position and I knew that he could probably be the deciding factor."
The match was a repeat of the final at the 1996 Atlanta Games, when the Africans won 3-2 for their first and only Olympic title.
Messi got his first touch less than three minutes into the match on Saturday, creating Argentina's first attacking chance with a nice through ball to striker Sergio Aguero.
With the final being played in 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures, Messi did not move around the field as usual. At times he had problems controlling the ball, and in a couple of occasions he gave the ball away with bad passes.
Messi scored his second goal of the tournament in Argentina's 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, and set up two goals in Argentina's 3-0 routing of Brazil in the semifinals, when he won the duel with former Barcelona teammate Ronaldinho.
Messi also set up a goal in the match against the Ivory Coast and against the Netherlands. He was rested in his team's 2-0 win over Serbia in the group stage, when the Argentines had already secured a quarterfinal berth.


Updated : 2021-06-21 13:13 GMT+08:00