At last! After all the excitement of the build-up, the Men's Olympic Football Tournament finally got under way, the day before the official Opening Ceremony, and there were plenty of big names on show to whet the appetite of fans around the world. Lionel Messi steered defending champions Argentina to a narrow 2-1 opening win over Côte d'Ivoire, while Ronaldinho celebrated his much-anticipated comeback after four months on the sidelines in a workmanlike 1-0 win for Brazil over Belgium.
The big game
Argentina may have had a star-studded line-up for their opener against Côte d'Ivoire, but it was only when Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero got the ball that they ever really looked a threat. Juan Roman Riquelme was among those who were not on top form, and the Albiceleste consequently looked unconvincing at times going forward. The playmaker did manage to raise his game in the 40th minute, however, sending a long pass through to Messi which the Barcelona prodigy promptly tucked away for the opening goal. Sekou Cisse gave the South American giants a rude awakening, though, when he shot home the equaliser, putting an end to Argentina's run of clean sheets at the Olympics. Nevertheless, four minutes from time, that man Messi again made the difference when Vincent Angban failed to hold his shot, leaving substitute Lautaro Acosta to poke home the winner.
The other games
Fancied outsiders Serbia had to make do with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Australia, despite dominating proceedings for most of the match. And if the European side are to get any further in the tournament, they will have to be more clinical in front of goal. Ruben Zadkovich gave Australia a surprise lead in the 69th minute only for Slobodan Rajkovic to equalise nine minutes later and keep Serbia within striking distance of the Group A favourites Argentina.
The USA, another team who came to Beijing with great expectations, also got off to slow start, struggling to break down a gritty Japanese outfit. A left-foot shot from Stuart Holden just before half time ended up being the difference between the two teams, but the North Americans will also have to improve if they are to qualify from a Group B that also includes the Netherlands and Nigeria, who battled to a goalless draw today.
Brazil's superstars had considerable trouble overcoming a plucky Belgium side 1-0 in a display which left spectators in Shenyang more than a shade disappointed. Whoever thought that Ronaldinho and his merry men would stroll from victory to victory was very much mistaken, and there were 79 minutes on the clock before Carlos Dunga's men finally opened the scoring through Hernanes. This was also despite the fact that the Belgians ended the match with only nine men after Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini were dismissed. The Auriverde are nevertheless top of Group C, since home nation China PR could not manage any better than a 1-1 draw against New Zealand, despite the partisan support of their fans.
One team that certainly did not disappoint was Italy. The Azzurri raced to an impressive 3-0 win against Honduras on the back of a fine performance from Sebastian Giovinco. The 21-year-old scored the opener before Giuseppe Rossi and Robert Acquafresca each converted a penalty to give Italy pole position in Group D after Cameroon and Korea Republic played out a 1-1 draw. Carlos Pavon had the chance to reduce the deficit just before the final whistle but sent his spot-kick wide. This was, incidentally, the fifth penalty in the first three matches in Qinhuangdao.
While the fans were all eager to see how Ronaldinho and Messi would perform, a diminutive youngster by the name of Giovinco slipped in and stole the show. The Juventus prodigy not only pulled the strings at the heart of the Italian midfield like a seasoned pro, but also scored the goal of the day. Just before half time, he picked up the ball on the edge of the box, jinked inside and sent a textbook shot into the top left hand corner of the net to set his team on the road to victory.
593 - the number of minutes that Argentina managed to keep a clean sheet in Olympic Football Tournaments, setting a new record. Côte d'Ivoire's Cisse slotted the ball past Oscar Ustari in the 53rd minute of Wednesday's match, and the run finally came to an end. Argentina did not concede a single goal in six matches on the way to winning gold in Athens in 2004, and did not take part in the previous tournament at Sydney 2000. The last goal that the Albiceleste had therefore conceded in Olympic play dated back to their 3-2 defeat in the final in Atlanta 1996 against Nigeria. The previous record was held by Spain, who went 552 minutes without conceding a goal.
What they said
"Giovinco plays at an incredible level. He's one of those players who really stand out and can turn a game any time they are out on the pitch. He is a future Roberto Baggio or Giancarlo Antognoni. He has a great future ahead of him and will achieve great things in the Italian league," Honduras coach, Gilberto Yearwood, speaking about Sebastian Giovinco.
"China and New Zealand!," New Zealand coach Stu Jacobs in reply to the question as to which two teams would qualify out of Group C, which also contains Brazil and Belgium. His answer drew thunderous applause from the assembled journalists...