The 21-year-old Barcelona superstar was at the heart of the defending champions' attacks as they humiliated Brazil 3-0 in Tuesday's semi-final with Brazilian coach Dunga lamenting his team's inability to control a man he calls a 'genius'. "Messi is a superstar. He is a genius and my tactics against him didn't work well," Dunga admitted.
Nigeria have a great belief that they can deny the odds and upset the dazzling Argentines, and repeat their success at the 1996 Atlanta Games as the first African nation to become Olympic football champions.
Messi, who almost didn't play here with Barcelona wanting him back in Spain in time for the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round matches, again threatens to dominate the final, which will celebrate 100 years of Olympic football.
Messi the priority
Coach Samson Siasia, who scored for Nigeria in their 2-1 group loss to Argentina at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ in Boston, said marking Messi was his team's biggest priority in the Beijing final. "To defend against Lionel Messi is the biggest thing we have to do. We just have to make sure we stay close to him and we don't give him the chances like we did the last time in the U-20 World Cup," said Siasia. "Their biggest star is Messi, that's it. That's all. He is the biggest star in that team."
Siasia was Nigeria's coach when they went down 2-1 to two Messi penalties in the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup final in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Argentina, benefiting from a crop of exciting U-23 players and well-marshalled by 30-year-old Boca Juniors playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, are the hot favourites to defend the title they won with their 1-0 victory over Paraguay in Athens four years ago.
But Siasia is confident he has the players to take the game to the Argentines and defy the odds. "They are not only beatable, but we will be victorious on that day," Siasia asserted. "I believe in my team and they believe in themselves, as you can see with the performance so far in the Olympics.
"Apart from us, nobody really thought we would get here. We have been replicating our performances every game. We have continued to prove doubters wrong and we will do it again. For Argentina to beat us, they are going to have to do a very good job."
The Brazil triumph sent a positive surge through the Argentine players, reared on a history of fierce rivalry for football supremacy with the five-time FIFA World Cup champions.
Now Argentina see Nigeria as payback time for the Africans' win over them at the Atlanta Olympics. "This Argentine team has committed themselves to each match at the Olympics in order to win the gold medal," coach Sergio Batista said.
Striker Sergio Aguero, whose rapid-fire brace shattered the Brazilians, sees similarities with Argentina's victory in the U-20 World Cup and their Beijing Olympics campaign. "We've got a lot of players from the FIFA U-20 World Cup where we defeated Brazil in the semi-finals and Nigeria in the final, so we've got everything under control," Aguero said.
Aguero is Argentine football icon Diego Maradona's son-in-law and he revealed before the final that he and Maradona's daughter, Gianinna, are expecting a baby.