Argentina's squad list for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament featured the usual welter of established stars and some lesser-known names, among them Angel Di Maria. A product of the Rosario Central youth system and a world champion with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, the left-sided midfielder relished the chance to shine alongside legendary figures such as Lionel Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme.
Seizing his opportunity with both hands, Di Maria caught the eye with his ball skills, elusive running and ability to score important goals. And to round off a stunning fortnight that saw him strike twice against the Netherlands and Nigeria en route to winning gold, the Benfica man was named by Alfio Basile in the squad for Argentina's upcoming FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. Just minutes after receiving the coveted gold medal, Argentina's latest rising star shared his thoughts with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Angel, did you dream of achieving something like this when you set off for China? Angel Di Maria: I wanted to earn a place in the team but I knew it would be very difficult because we have so many great players. Luckily, I performed well in training and got a place in the starting XI. I'm tremendously happy at doing that and going on to win a gold medal too.
You were a member of the side that won the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year and now you have picked up a gold medal. Success has come quickly, hasn't it?
Yes, everthing has happened so fast. Last year I won the World Cup, which meant a lot to me. Then came my move to Benfica, a call-up for the Olympics and now I've gone and scored the winning goal in the final. So much has happened to me. Now I'm just hoping I can perform in the full team, achieve more things with Argentina and also have a good season with Benfica. I'll be going back with a lot of confidence for sure.
Why do you think Argentina won the gold?
Because we were the best side and we had a fantastic group of players. We all pulled in the same direction and we all stuck together. You could see that on the pitch and that's why we won a deserved title.
Nigeria worked very hard, though...
Yes, they've got a very good side. They're very strong both physically and technically, but we played a great game. We put a lot into it and came away with a hard-fought win.
Tell us about your goal.
When I saw Leo (Messi) spin away I knew he'd slip the ball through to me. I ran on and found myself one on one with the keeper, who narrowed the angle down well. I thought about hitting it hard but as he'd closed the space down I just flicked my foot under the ball. It came off my toe and luckily it went in. It was a nice finish, wasn't it?
Did you speak to Diego Maradona after you scored?Yes. He gave me a hug and congratulated me. He said ‘What a fantastic goal'. It was really exciting. Scoring the goal that won the gold medal for Argentina and got Diego on his feet celebrating is just too much.
And to cap it all Alfio Basile has now called you up for the senior team. How do you feel about that?
It's wonderful. I always dreamed about playing for the full team and I've achieved things step by step. Everything came off for me at this tournament, just how I'd wanted it to. All I can do now is to keep going and show that I can perform in the national side.