BEIJING (AFP) - Argentina remain Olympic football champions after a goal engineered by superstar Lionel Messi inspired them to a 1-0 win over former champions Nigeria in the gold medal match at the Beijing Games on Saturday.
Messi disentangled himself from Nigeria's tight marking to put teammate Angel Di Maria clear on goal early in the second half of a final played in sapping 35-degree midday heat before a near capacity crowd of 89,102 at the National Stadium.
Benfica's Di Maria chipped over the advancing goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin to break the deadlock and score what proved the winning goal in the 58th minute.
"It was a dream game. All I could think of was thank God the ball went over the line and now thanks to that I have a gold medal," Di Maria said.
Argentina successfully defended the Olympic crown from their 1-0 win over Paraguay in Athens four years ago. They are now unbeaten in 12 matches stretching over two Games, an Olympic football record.
Nigeria went in with the pyschological edge of beating Argentina 3-2 in the corresponding final 12 years ago in Atlanta to become the first African Olympic champions.
But although Nigeria kept Messi in check for the most part, he ultimately sunk them with his exhilarating skills in a decider twice halted for water breaks for the heat-stressed players.
"We didn't play our best football today but this victory is a good one for us," Messi said. "The fact that we have been to the athletes village and met famous sportsmen, it's all an experience that we will not forget quickly."
Messi, who almost didn't play in Beijing with Barcelona wanting him back in Spain in time for the Champions League third qualifying round matches, came close to scoring 13 minutes from the end, but was thwarted by a brave covering tackle from Nice central defender Onyekachi Apam.
Messi once again proved Nigeria's nemesis after undoing them in the final of the 2005 FIFA under-20 World Cup in Utrecht when he earned and converted two penalties in a 2-1 win.
"Messi terrorises not only our team, but all teams in Europe. He didn't score but he created a lot of their chances. That is why we have the silver and they have the gold," Nigerian coach Samson Siasia said.
"We're very disappointed, but it means we came second in the Olympic Games. We had a lot of good scoring chances, but you have to score goals to win the gold medal."
The defending champions began well with Di Maria put clear by skipper Juan Riquelme in the ninth minute and was brought down on the edge of the box.
Hertha Berlin right winger Solomon Okoronkwo, the only over-aged player in the Nigerian squad, produced some sweet touches to combine well with striker Victor Obinna.
Sergio Aguero, whose two goals destroyed Brazil in Tuesday's 3-0 semi-final win, was put through by Di Maria but Apam saw off the threat in the 16th minute.
Messi appealed for a penalty when he surged into the area but it was turned down and at the other end left-winger Peter Odemwingie's header was just over the bar.
The baking heat forced Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai to stop play for a water break on the half-hour and on the resumption Odemwingie skipped around Nicolas Pareja and skipper Promise Isaac just missed connecting with the cross.
The ball came back and Isaac's header was saved by Sergio Romero in Nigeria's best chance of the half.
Argentina didn't get their first corner until the 39th minute and just before halftime Apam again defused another Messi threat and Di Maria let fly with a fierce long-range drive which just whistled past the right post.
Messi almost scored minutes after the interval flicking the ball around a defender and unleashing a stinging volley that was taken by Vanzekin.
Apam went into the referee's book for a heavy tackle on Di Maria as Argentina began to take more control of the game.
Messi had a chance moments later skipping clear after winning the ball in a tackle but Apam saved the situation with a great covering tackle on the edge of the box.
|Moyes stands by criticism of players|
|Guardiola marvels at amazing Ryder Cup experience|
|Mathieu and Deschamps ´exchange´ gives Mangala recall|
|Retirement threat just ´erratic´ Tevez being dramatic - Joorabchian|
|Dani Alves wants Champions League glory with Juventus|
|Guardiola: Football fans can enjoy Tottenham|
|Ranieri calls for consistency from Leicester|
|Low missing out on ´dream´ player in Castro - Tuchel|
|Mata: I never had problems with Mourinho|
|Conte wants failures to motivate Chelsea|
|Pochettino rules out ´impossible´ England switch|
|Emery pleased with Ben Arfa attitude|
|Gundogan returns for Germany after lengthy absence|
|Terry out again as Chelsea prepare for Hull|
|Hasselbaink refutes corruption allegations|
|Robben to start against Cologne, suggests Ancelotti|
|Prolific Callejon called into Spain squad|
|Hull City offer ´keeps changing´ - Phelan|
|Krueger: Black allegations do not directly affect Southampton|
|Wenger optimistic over Coquelin recovery|
|Hughes focused after Mourinho backing|
|Wenger open to England job|
|Klopp eyes retirement before 60|
|Wenger the pioneer battles on within his own legacy|
|Lukaku: I am not on Suarez´s level yet|
|Ibrahimovic is tremendous even if he does not score - Mourinho|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Olimpia, Honduras Progreso claim key wins|
|Astra expected hungover Roma - Spalletti|
|United fixture list a ´poisoned gift´ - Mourinho|
|Ronaldo back for ´stronger´ Portugal|
|Dembele can be next Drogba - Rodgers|
|Mourinho wanted Pogba at Chelsea, says Raiola|
|Puel pleased with ´good point´ in Israel|
|Mourinho not ´over the moon´ with United wins|
|Southampton investigating Eric Black allegations|
|Rodgers: Celtic would challenge at the top in England|
|Ibrahimovic expects more from United|
|Manchester United 1 Zorya 0: Ibrahimovic header earns Mourinho´s men narrow win|
|De Boer blasts Inter for lack of focus|
|Zarate reveals message to ill wife after goalscoring return|
|Raffael suffers fresh injury setback|
|Hapoel Be´er Sheva 0 Southampton 0: Saints´ winning run comes to an end|
|Sparta Prague 3 Inter 1: De Boer´s side humbled in Europa League again|
|Police to review corruption allegations after Telegraph sting|
|Brady hails Wenger as ´possibly the best ever´ Gunners boss|
|Yacob signs new West Brom deal|
|Guidolin prioritising Swansea improvement over his future|
|Sakho outburst has been dealt with – Klopp|
|Bilic sorry for Allardyce in ´very sad´ week for English football|
|Laporte saga nears conclusion as defender earns France call-up|
|Everton are exceeding expectations – Koeman|
|Wenger could be tempted by an international offer, says ex-assistant|
|No excuses for Liverpool this time, says Klopp|
|Rashford left out of England Under-21 squad|
|Boro must pick up where they left off - Karanka|
|Matuidi could still join Juventus, says Raiola|
|Pardew anticipates battle of the Belgians|
|Legia Warsaw to face Real Madrid behind closed doors|
|England job would be the pinnacle - Pardew|
|Wright sacked by Barnsley|
|Bilic defends West Ham team night out|
|Ramsey withdrawal was Arsenal´s call - Coleman|
|LMA demand ´immediate full disclosure´ of corruption evidence|
|´My answer would be a big fat no´ - Coleman rules out taking England job|
|Leeds dismiss Cellino sting as ´non-story´|
|Gabigol, Rashford and Sanches among Golden Boy nominees|
|Keane slams Arsenal: Half their players will have gloves on soon|
|´Special´ Man City draw a career highlight, says Gordon|
|Southgate admits England situation is ´not ideal´|
|England should have gone for O´Neill, says Shilton|
|PSG´s powers of recovery impress Cavani|
|Howe ´absolutely committed´ to Bournemouth amid England links|
|Man City proved character against Celtic, says Zabaleta|
|Walcott: Sanchez partnership bodes well for Arsenal´s season|
|MLS Review: DC, Impact on track for play-offs|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Tigres, Dallas left waiting|
|Central Sanchez pleases Wenger|
|Barca felt Messi absence - Busquets|
|Martino knew Messi would come out of retirement|
|Shilton never convinced by Allardyce|
|Degenek replaced by Giannou for Socceroos|
|Griezmann will still take penalties - Simeone|
|Simeone proud of ´one of the best´ wins|
|Godin suffers sprained ankle ligament|
|West Ham receive positive news over injured duo|
|Robson: Four wins for Southgate and he´s an England contender|
|Gunes rues Besiktas´ inability to see off Dynamo|
|Sarri: Late goals leave bitter taste|
|Borussia Monchengladbach were exceptional against Barcelona, feels Schubert|
|PSG must be patient, says Emery|
|Celtic are lucky to have Dembele - Rodgers|
|I´m completely focused on Arsenal, insists Wenger amid England talk|
|Hasselbaink denies wrongdoing amid impropriety allegations|
|Ancelotti frustrated by slow, toothless Bayern|
|Barcelona deserved their win - Luis Enrique|
|I want Celtic atmosphere at City – Guardiola|
|Rebrov defends Yarmolenko after ´difficult´ match|
|Rostov draw is two points dropped for PSV, says De Jong|
|Torres eyeing ´magical´ year for Atletico|
|Celtic 3 Manchester City 3: Dembele at the double in six-goal thriller|
|Celtic 3 Manchester City 3: Dembele at the double in six-goal thriller|
|Rostov 2 PSV 2: Propper´s penalty miss costs visitors|
|Besiktas 1 Dynamo Kiev 1: Tsygankov stuns wasteful Turks|
|Napoli 4 Benfica 2: Mertens bags two as Napoli run riot|
|Arsenal 2 Basel 0: Walcott´s capital gains tax Swiss visitors|
|Borussia Monchengladbach 1 Barcelona 2: Pique grabs the winner|
|Atletico Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Carrasco gives Ancelotti first taste of defeat|
|Ludogorets 1 Paris Saint-Germain 3: Cavani inspires comeback win|
|Premier League, FA and EFL to investigate transfer allegations|
|Vardy reveals matchday energy drink and port routine|
|Everton coping without Stones, says Jagielka|
|Sacked Jemez admits to ´great sadness´ at Granada exit after worst start in over 70 years|
|Wenger has so much to offer English football - Schmeichel|
|No truth to England rumours, says Klinsmann|
|Spalletti demands end to damaging Roma ´games´|
|De Boer: Brozovic was punished and forgiven|
|Allardyce paid price for lack of privacy - McClaren|
|Milik can match Lewandowski - Reina|
|LMA ´extremely concerned´ about manager bribe allegations|
|Iwobi: I nearly left Arsenal|
|Mata has found a ´natural habitat´ at United|
|Higuain slowly approaching top form|
|´Stupid´ Allardyce driven by money - Dyke|
|Wijnaldum vows to improve|
|Renato Sanches needs time at Bayern - Hitzfeld|
|Ibrahimovic nurturing United talent - Lingard|
|Mourinho feels sorry for Allardyce|
|United boss primed for ´must-win´ Europa League tie|
|Mourinho keen to protect under-fire Rooney|
|Jeonbuk Motors 4 Seoul 1: Leonardo brace puts hosts in the driving seat|
|Maloney returns to Scotland squad|
|Van Persie: Kids will decide my future|
|Entrapment won on this occasion - Allardyce|
|Ibra-Rashford pairing the answer for United - Neville|
|Tevez hints at imminent retirement|
|England in safe hands with Southgate - Glenn|
|Holman talks up A-League quality|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Red Bulls progress, Timbers win|
|Januzaj blow for Sunderland|
|Navas accepts blame for Dortmund equaliser|
|Sporting assistant Raul Jose pleased with win|
|Nuno left to regret slow start as Porto fail on English soil again|
|Vardy rejected Arsenal due to style|
|Simeone: I am not Griezmann´s mentor|
|Schmidt bemoans ´brutal´ Monaco equaliser|
|Ranieri doesn´t trust bookies over England job|
|Genesio worried wastefulness will cost Lyon in long run|
|Preud´homme admits Champions League too much for Club Brugge|
|Telegraph passes findings to FA after further corruption claims|
|Zidane: Draw difficult to accept|