SHANGHAI (AFP) - Argentina's defiant fight to play Lionel Messi in their opening Olympic men's football match paid dividends when the Barcelona superstar scored the opening goal in a narrow 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast on Thursday.
Messi's magic also set up the winner, four minutes from full-time in a match the defending champions were expected to win with ease against a side playing in their first Olympics.
But instead they came up against a combative team prepared to attack at every opportunity and after Argentina led 1-0 at half-time, thanks to Messi, Ivory Coast levelled the score immediately after the interval.
As the game counted down to the final whistle Messi again showed why he is such a phenomenal talent when he weaved through the defence to place the ball squarely in front of Lautaro Acosta who fired in the winner.
Messi, who was adamant he wanted to take part in the Games, took the field despite Barcelona winning an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport giving the club the right to stop him playing.
But with Argentina determined the start 21-year-old regardless, backed by pressure from both the IOC and FIFA, Barcelona lifted their ban at the 11th hour.
After tormenting the Ivory Coast through the first half his class paid off just before the break when he took the ball behind the Ivory Coast defence and wrong-footed hapless goalkeeper Vincent Angban.
However, it was short-lived glory for a side packed with names from some of the biggest clubs in Europe and who went through the Athens Olympics without conceding a goal.
Two minutes into the second half Sekou Cisse brought the Africans back into the game when he beat Pablo Zabaleta in the air to head home the equaliser.
Ivory Coast went close to taking the lead in the 77th minute but captain Gervinho's shot went just wide of the right-hand post.
It was then left to Messi to feed Acosta who broke the deadlock and ruin what was a busy night for Ivory Coast 'keeper Angban who had held off repeated raids set up by Messi and his Atletico Madrid strike partner Sergio Aguero.
Argentina next play Australia on Sunday while Ivory Coast play Serbia. Australia and Serbia earlier drew 1-1.
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