The favourites for gold in the men's Olympic football tournament, Brazil and Argentina, both got off to a winning start on Thursday. Barcelona's inspirational forward Lionel Messi played a key part in Argentina's defeat of the Ivory Coast.
Lionel Messi rewarded Argentina for fighting for his right to play in the Olympics when he orchestrated a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on the opening day of the Beijing men's football Thursday.
Co-tournament favourites Brazil were less impressive but also started with a win beating Belgium 1-0 while hosts China snatched a late draw against minnows New Zealand and the United States also drew with Japan.
After an international wrangle to get on the field, Messi weaved his magic with a goal before half-time and then set up the winner four minutes from the end as Argentina made hard work of beating Olympic newcomers Ivory Coast.
Messi was adamant he wanted to take part in the Games and took the field despite his European paymasters Barcelona winning an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport giving the club the right to stop him playing.
But with Argentina determined the start 21-year-old regardless, backed by pressure from both the IOC and FIFA, Barcelona lifted their ban at the 11th hour.
The superstar then showed why he is such a phenomenal talent as he wrong-footed hapless goalkeeper Vincent Angban for the opening goal just before half-time.
Ivory Coast equalised just after half-time and as the game counted down to the final whistle Messi carved through to set up Lautaro Acosta for the winner.
In the other group A match at Shanghai Stadium Australia and Serbia played out a 1-1 draw.
Brazil overcame their toughest opponents in Group C when a goal by Sao Paulo midfielder Hernanes 12 minutes from the end secured a 1-0 win over a nine-man Belgium.
In a scrappy and niggly encounter, the Brazilians finally prised open the resiliant Belgium defence after Vincent Kompany was off with 20 minutes remaining.
Belgium then lost Marouane Fellaini in the closing minutes and when a comeback looked beyond them.
Brazil next play plucky New Zealand who nearly pulled off the upset of the day when they let in a late goal by Manchester United's Dong Fangzhou to allow hosts China escape with a 1-1 draw.
It was a demoralising end for a New Zealand side who had defender Steven Old red-carded just before halftime and scored their goal early in the second spell when down to 10-men.
In the opening Group B match at Tianjin, the United States made the most of their limited attacking opportunities to beat Japan 1-0.
The sole goal came two minutes into the second half when Scottish-born Stuart Holden latched on to a misdirected Japan clearing kick and fired in from 30 metres.
Japanese goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa was able to take the sting out of the shot but couldn't hold it and the ball emerged through his hands to trickle over the line.
The United States next play the Netherlands who battled for 90 minutes against Nigeria to end with a scoreless draw.
Italy were too strong for Honduras in their Group D match played in Qinhuangdao, winning 3-0 while South Korea and Cameroon drew 1-1.
Date created : 2008-08-07