Four years ago it was Carlos Tevez, on Saturday Benfica’s Angel Di María secured his place in Argentine football history by becoming the second man to score a gold medal-winning goal for his country in the Olympic Football Tournament. In a final played in scorching heat in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, Argentina rode their luck in the first half but eventually overcame Nigeria to successfully defend their title and gain revenge for defeat in the final of the same event in the Atlanta Games of 1996.
For some reason, after playing the whole event in the evening in Beijing, the Olympic committee decreed that the final was to take place at midday in the Bird’s Nest – meaning 32 Celcius heat and a kick off time in the middle of the night / very early in the morning for anyone living in either of the two countries which happened to be going for the gold.
In the face of the heat and the pace and organised defence of the Nigerians, Argentina struggled to find their rhythm. Attacks were carried out strictly in one gear, save for when the ball came to Di María, who seemed the only player able or willing to step up the pace and inject some pace into proceedings. Nigeria had their chances – the first when Sergio Romero made a good save from Promise Isaac – and could have felt a little peeved to go in at the break without a lead.
After half time, though, Lionel Messi decided to come out and play and the link up between La Pulga and Juan Román Riquelme began to come alive again. Just before the hour, it bore fruit as Messi, with a magnificent pass, picked out Di María in the left channel. The Benfica forward, whose performances during these Games have been as revelatory to the wider world as were Tevez’s four years ago, deserved to be the man to score the winning goal, and it was a superb lobbed finish over Ambruse Vanzekin which gave Argentina their second consecutive Olympic Gold. Now if they could just step up to that level in senior tournaments…
For highlights of the match on the BBC website, click here.