Argentina meet Nigeria in the Olympic Football Tournament final on Saturday, a re-run of the legendary gold medal decider in 1996. The Nigerians took the honours on that occasion, but the pre-match situation this time round presents a stark contrast, as Argentina are both reigning Olympic and U-20 world champions. The South Americans will be keener than ever to return home with gold medals hanging from their necks.
Nigeria – Argentina, 23 August, noon (local time), National Stadium, Beijing
The teams have previously met twice in FIFA final matches. In the gold medal match at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the Africans defeated an Argentine side including Hernan Crespo 3-2 in Athens, Georgia. The teams met again nine years later at the 2005 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands, the South Americans triumphing 2-1 with two goals from Lionel Messi, one of twelve survivors from that match expected to feature on Saturday.
Both teams made short work of the group stages in Beijing, before Nigeria beat quarter-final opponents Côte d’Ivoire 2-0 and eased past Belgium 4-1 in the semi-finals. Argentina needed extra time to overcome the Dutch 2-1 in the last eight, before Messi, Aguero and Co turned on the style in seeing off arch-rivals Brazil 3-0 to earn a place in the final.
The teams will have the utmost respect for each other in what promises to be a thrilling and momentous afternoon of football on Saturday.
The players to watch
Lionel Messi (ARG) - Victor Obinna (NGA)
Lionel Messi is the undisputed star whenever he pulls on the sky-blue and white shirt of Argentina. The Barcelona forward has struck up a potent partnership with Sergio Aguero at the tournament, the pair making a decisive contribution to their team’s progress to the final with four of the ten goals scored by the Albiceleste so far. The 21-year-old Messi will again spearhead his side’s attacking efforts against Nigeria. The Africans’ in-form star is also a goal-getter. Victor Obinna, on the books at Serie A outfit Chievo Verona, is actually one ahead of both Messi and Aguero with three goals for the tournament. How the respective sharpshooters perform is likely to be of decisive importance in the thunderous clash at the National Stadium.
The numbers game
18 – The number of FIFA tournament finals contested by Argentine national teams. The South Americans have made the FIFA U-20 World Cup final seven times, the FIFA World Cup™ Final four times, the gold medal decider at the Olympic Football Tournament four times, and the FIFA Confederations Cup final on three occasions.
"If you read the polls, you’ll see about 90 percent of the people think Argentina will win. That couldn’t be better for us. The pressure’s all on them," Nigeria coach Samson Siasia
"We always wanted Nigeria in the final. I still have vivid memories of the 1996 final, which they won with a goal in the last minute. We hope to return to Argentina with the gold medal this time round," Argentina captain Juan Riquelme