BEIJING (AFP) - Players and coaches heaped praise on Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi after he helped defending champions Argentina into a glamour Olympic semi-final against Brazil.
The influential 21-year-old, considered by many to be the best player in the business, was instrumental in helping his side come through a tough test against the Netherlands 2-1 in their quarter-final.
Messi, who almost didn't play here with his club wanting him back in Spain in time for the Champions League third qualifying round matches, scored the first goal and set up the second for Angel di Maria in extra-time.
"He is one of the best football players in the world," said Argentina coach Sergio Batista.
"The whole team had a great performace in the match. We won the game because of the endeavour of the team."
Even Dutch coach Foppe De Haan was full of praise, and tipped Argentina to beat Brazil on Tuesday.
"I like Messi, even though he's on the other team," he said. "When he gets the ball he is unbelievable. Argentina are better than Brazil, they have a modern passing game."
Like Argentina, Brazil needed extra-time to beat Cameroon 2-0 with Rafael Sobis chipping the goalkeeper to break the deadlock.
Real Madrid's Marcelo made it safe with the second goal four minutes later after leadup work by AC Milan's Ronaldinho and substitute Thiago Neves.
Brazil have won the World Cup five times but have never managed Olympic gold, something they are desperate to put right.
As they work on a plan to shatter Brazil's dreams once again, Argentina plan to consult the legendary Maradona on how best to approach the game.
He arrived in China on Saturday to get behind the team, watching from the VIP box as they beat the Netherlands.
"He came to meet the whole team on Saturday afternoon, he was very kind and cheered everyone up, encouraged everyone, and he told me how to play in this match, like not to make long passes," said striker Sergio Aguero.
"I'll meet him later to talk about the Brazil game."
Brazil have now scored 11 goals in four matches and have yet to concede a goal in the Beijing tournament, adding to Argentinian concerns.
In the other semi-final, Nigeria will play surprise package Belgium, who sent European powerhouse Italy packing 3-2.
Belgium played most of the match a man down after defender Thomas Vermaelen was red-carded early but still managed to go through, which pleased captain Maarten Martens.
"The team is always hard working, but also has some very good qualities," he said.
"Most importantly we all want to achieve something. We won by giving 100 percent. It was really hard but everyone had a lot of belief during the game, even with a player being sent off early on."
They face a tough task against Nigeria in their semi-final on Tuesday after the African giants proved too good for Ivory Coast, winning 2-0.
In the end it was Nigeria's inherited experience from six Olympics and one gold medal which paid off, and coach Samson Siasia said it was their best performance yet.
"Tactically we were very sound and we took our chances," he said.
"Every team who has come to the Olympics wants a gold medal, but it is not easy. There are many obstacles but, of course, having come this far we want the gold now.
"The semi-final is going to be very tough, but it is possible."
|Á. di María||105'|
|L. Messi||14' 81'|
|Wenger: Arsenal showed progress with Middlesbrough draw|
|Thiago Silva wants to extend PSG stay|
|Inaki Williams dismisses Liverpool rumours|
|Coutinho does ´amazing things´ - Matip|
|Wilshere happy to be out of Arsenal comfort zone at Bournemouth|
|Lloris is Premier League´s best goalkeeper - Dier|
|Revolution striker Kamara given yellow card for twerking|
|Klopp rubbishes ´defensive problem´ claims|
|Madrid tracking Dortmund boss Tuchel, claims Watzke|
|MLS Review: Dallas win Supporters´ Shield, Sporting KC sneak into play-offs|
|Ronaldo has ´addiction for goals´ - Morata|
|Emery refuses to point the finger at Di Maria after Marseille draw|
|Zidane vows to play Morata more often|
|Garcia hails Marseille team spirit after PSG draw|
|Neville urges calm at United after Mourinho´s horror Chelsea reunion|
|Zamalek 1 Mamelodi Sundowns 0 (1-3 agg): South Africans clinch first CAF Champions League title|
|Paris Saint-Germain 0 Marseille 0: Champions thwarted in Garcia´s first game|
|Real Madrid 2 Athletic Bilbao 1: Morata to the rescue|
|Bailly sustains knee ligament injury|
|Simeone frustrated by Atletico´s finishing|
|Conte encouraged crowd as Chelsea deserved it|
|Chelsea thrashing painful for Mata and United|
|Chelsea ´dominant from first minute to last´ - Cahill|
|Mourinho blames ´incredible defensive mistakes´ for United loss|
|N´Zonzi cools talk of title challenge|
|Chelsea 4 Manchester United 0: Rampant Blues humble returning Mourinho|
|De Boer: Inter ´played with fear´ in first half|
|Juventus confirm Dybala thigh injury|
|Guardiola vows to fix Manchester City concerns|
|Sevilla 1 Atletico Madrid 0: N´Zonzi strikes to end Simeone´s unbeaten start|
|Bayern set to open Robben, Ribery renewal talks|
|Puel satisfied with City draw|
|Rangers 0 Celtic 1: Late Dembele strike settles Old Firm semi-final|
|Croatian player teased for being ´too smart for football´|
|Redmond expected City to give up chances|
|Feyenoord 1 Ajax 1: Kuyt cancels out Dolberg opener|
|Atalanta 2 Inter 1: Late penalty heaps pressure on De Boer|
|Voller defends Schmidt over touchline dismissal|
|Injured Rooney left out of United squad for Chelsea trip|
|Manchester City 1 Southampton 1: Guardiola´s men back on top but winless run continues|
|Guangzhou Evergrande clinch record sixth straight Super League title|
|´Icon´ Rooney not finished at United - Pereira|
|Zubizarreta-Garcia meeting confirmed by Marseille president|
|Aspas-inspired Celta thrash Deportivo in Galician derby|
|Lorient dismiss coach Ripoll|
|Ronaldo´s impact on football is myth-like - Perez|
|United not distracted by Mourinho´s Chelsea return - Young|
|A-League Review: 20,000th goal helps Newcastle Jets to shock comeback|
|Cech laments Arsenal´s lack of composure|
|Qatar World Cup worker dies at stadium site|
|Galliani wanted Montella at Milan in 2014|
|Mourinho hopes never to return to Chelsea|
|Barzagli angry with AC Milan defeat|
|Iniesta admits ´it could have been worse´ after Barcelona confirm 6-8 week absence|
|Mourinho: I´ll never sell Rooney|
|Ancelotti admits to bowing to Ronaldo demands|
|Ancelotti doubts Conte´s Chelsea can win Premier League|
|Romagnoli happy at Milan amid Chelsea links|
|City must not change their style - Gundogan|
|Conte wants to emulate Mourinho|
|Montella: Rising Milan must handle new expectations|
|Rummenigge dispels Alaba-Manchester City reports|
|Success the key to building connection with fans - Mourinho|
|Gundogan hails ´amazing´ duo Guardiola and Klopp|
|AC Milan players influenced ref for disallowed goal, fumes Allegri|
|Allardyce incident a tragedy, says FA chief executive Glenn|
|Locatelli can´t comprehend beating Buffon|
|Mentality the key for Chelsea battle, says Rashford|
|Klopp hints at Gerrard return|
|Ancelotti hints at future Costa selfie|
|Luis Enrique salutes Barca´s spirit in adversity|
|Iniesta ruled out for up to eight weeks|
|AC Milan 1 Juventus 0: Locatelli wondergoal seals controversial victory|
|Ribery ready for Bayern Munich return|
|Buffon given vote of confidence amid Donnarumma reports|
|Clean sheet pleases Ancelotti|
|Pulis tips Liverpool for title tilt|
|Alonso delighted with dominant Bayern display|
|Klopp: West Brom draw would have been a joke|
|De Boer praises Icardi mentality amid ultras row|
|Valdes recovery heartens Karanka|
|Spanish football can´t have such a disgraceful referee - Pitarch rages after Barcelona loss|
|Luis Enrique fears long absence for Iniesta|
|Bilic insists West Ham deserved last-gasp win|
|Dortmund were not ready for Bundesliga intensity - Tuchel|
|Liverpool 2 West Brom 1: Mane and Coutinho on target for Klopp´s men|
|Bayern Munich 2 Borussia Monchengladbach 0: Champions back on track thanks to Costa and Vidal|
|Brazil great Ronaldinho considering three contracts|
|Luis Enrique, Valencia condemn missile throwing after Barcelona winner|
|Wenger to raise a glass after toasting Cech|
|Dyche delighted to see Clarets get back to basics|
|Moyes claims winner should have been ruled out|
|Karanka declares Cech man-of-the-match as Boro make their point|
|Leicester power too much for Palace - Pardew|
|Last-minute winner even sweeter, says Suarez|
|Mazzarri: Watford should have had two penalties|
|Phelan demands fight from Hull|
|Better than Messi but behind Ronaldo - the stats behind Neymar´s first 100 LaLiga games|
|Ranieri rewards ´best performance of the season´ with cake|
|He was due one! - Hughes revels in Shaqiri´s free-kick success|
|Boro deserved a point - Cech|
|Koeman: Burnley defeat is unfair on Everton|
|Bradley takes positives from disappointing draw|
|Suarez and Neymar struck by missile after Messi winner|
|Valencia 2 Barcelona 3: Messi penalty snatches win but champions fret over Iniesta injury|
|West Ham United 1 Sunderland 0: Late Reid strike seals it for the Hammers|
|Emery calm over Thiago Silva Juventus talk|
|Burnley 2 Everton 1: Last-minute Arfield strike earns the points|
|Arsenal 0 Middlesbrough 0: Birthday blank for Wenger´s table-toppers|
|Leicester City 3 Crystal Palace 1: Champions return to winning ways|
|Swansea City 0 Watford 0: Encouraging signs, but no win for Bradley|
|Hull City 0 Stoke City 2: Stunning Shaqiri double sinks Tigers|
|Pochettino ´positive´ over Kane fitness|
|Ingolstadt 3 Borussia Dortmund 3: Pulisic rescues a point|
|Spalletti looks to end Blind feud|
|I did not see Sissoko elbow - Pochettino|
|Barcelona confirm Iniesta ligament damage|
|Howe thrilled with Bournemouth display|
|Arter: Sissoko elbow was an accident|
|Garcia claims he snubbed West Ham approach|
|Sampaoli different to Bielsa, says Simeone|
|Bournemouth 0 Tottenham 0: Cherries hold toothless Spurs|
|Lippi named China boss after Guangzhou cancel contract|
|Simeone expects title challenge from Sevilla|
|Special quality makes Messi better than Ronaldo - Tite|
|Zidane reassures Morata: This is a marathon|
|Ronaldo made himself - Ferguson|
|A-League Review: Victory and Roar get first wins|
|Blind hits back at Spalletti in Strootman row|
|Mourinho has not lost his magic, insists Mikel|
|Suarez open to Ajax return|
|Young: There is more to come from Pogba|
|Digne at home in Barcelona and ready to help win trophies|
|Defoe´s finishing is ´absurd´ - Bilic|
|Stekelenburg grounded despite penalty heroics|
|Thiago Silva can be our Pirlo - Juve CEO hints at move for PSG defender|
|Koscielny calls for ´tough´ Arsenal|
|Birthday boy Wenger: Result will determine celebrations|
|MLS fines Drogba for Impact snub|
|Klopp backs Sturridge to bounce back|
|Conte: Chelsea still scarred from last season|
|Giggs: United decline was not inevitable|