Messi sinks brave Ivorians
© AFP

Lionel Messi scored one and set up another on his Olympic debut as Argentina escaped with a 2-1 victory from a thrilling encounter with Côte d'Ivoire.

Much debate has surrounded the Barcelona star's participation in Beijing and, though he was generally shackled by an exceptional Ivorian side, he still managed to produce two moments of magic to give the holders and favourites a win they did little to deserve.

The Chinese neutrals certainly fell in love with a youthful and vibrant Elephants side who, having came from behind thanks to Sekou Cisse's superb 53rd-minute equaliser, could easily have gone on to win before crashing to a late winner from Lautaro Acosta.

Ultimately, we were left with a repeat of the scoreline from these sides' meeting at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, but from the moment Gervinho embarked on a scintillating early run that took him past a succession of Argentinian defenders, it was evident that the reigning champions were not going to have it easy.

The first real glimpse of Messi, meanwhile, came on 27 minutes when, having driven at the heart of the Elephants' defence, he threaded through an incisive pass that Sergio Aguero sliced wide. Argentina were proving wasteful in front of goal, with Ezequiel Lavezzi the worst offender, and they were relieved when the lively Gervinho saw a goal ruled out - correctly, it proved - for offside in 37 minutes.

Six minutes later, the assistant referee's flag stayed down at the other end as Messi raced through on to a brilliant defence-splitting pass from Juan Roman Riquelme, and the darling of the crowd made no mistake, coolly slotting the ball home low to the keeper's left.

Unbowed, the Ivorians bounced back and pulled level within six minutes of the restart, with Roda forward Cisse launching himself at a great cross from Mamadou Bagayoko to send a magnificent header looping into the far corner of the net. For Argentina, who hadn't conceded a single goal en route to glory in Athens, this clearly wasn't in the script, and they had to endure the frustration of seeing another excellent offside call rule out a Sergio Aguero 'goal' in 65 minutes.

At this stage, with Salomon Kalou and Gervinho both going close, it appeared the Ivorians were every bit as likely to score as their more experienced opponents, but with seven minutes remaining, disaster struck. The Africans were undone by a quick free-kick that released Messi in the left channel and when the Barcelona forward's shot was saved, Acosta was on hand to gleefully gobble up the rebound.

Argentina now top the section with three points, followed by Australia and Serbia on one, with the luckless Elephants left bottom without a single point to show for their considerable efforts.