Source: Xinhua

08-08-2008 07:15

Special Report:   2008 Beijing Olympic Games

SHANGHAI, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- The brave young Elephants nearly fought out a deserved draw with defending champions Argentina, but Lionel Messi rounded off the breathtaking Group A clash with magic performance to win 2-1 here on Thursday.

"Messi did a good job in this hard game against such a tough team. This is not easy for him after so many twists and turns recently," said Sergio Batista, head coach of Argentina after the match.

Messi has just escaped from a tug-of-war between Barcelona club and the Argentine Football Association, despite the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled that three European clubs win the appeal of refusing to release U23 players to Olympics, which is against FIFA's stance.

Messi broke the stalemate timely when Cote d'Ivoire pressured the Albiceleste heavily in the first half. The 21-year-old talent collected a defence-splitting through ball from Juan Riquelme in the 43rd minute and beat the Ivorian keeper Vincent Angban calmly with a low drive.

Argentina lost their first ball since 2004 Athens Games, after Sekou Cisse equalized the scoreboard with a nice header on 53 minutes. While the Elephants seemed to play better and better, Messi again killed the suspense by a wizard set-up.

He kicked off a free kick suddenly and exchanged a neat one-two with Riquelme before drilled a bullet shot to force Angban to miss the ball to the far post, and substitute striker Lautaro Acosta poked into the empty net to take the winner.

"I hope the three points we got today would help our team go ahead further at this Olympic tournament," said Messi.

Messi is not the only hero of Argentina. Riquelme also helped the side a lot with his magic passes and organization. The passing maestro displayed his trademark through balls the night and contained the Ivorians' high rhythm patiently.

Naming Riquelme as Midfield Engine, Batista said the fast- pacing captain and Messi made a balanced performance, thus successfully cheering up the whole team.

The Ivorians contributed greatly to the mouth-watering game with beautiful style. Captain Gervinho, Chelsea playmaker Salomon Kalou and Cisse have shown their waltz throughout the 90 minutes. The west Africans never bowed to the strong rivals and replied the Argentine artists with some shinning technique.

"I was a little bit disappointed, but we were not afraid to face Argentina with its good defence and big stars. The game is a great experience for us and we will prepare for the next match with confidence," said Cote d'Ivoire boss Gerard Gili.

Gervinho brushed off consecutive challenges from the Argentine defenders from time to time, and forced them to make some dangerous and disputed fouls in the box, only to be blown off by the referee.

Kalou humiliated his Premier League foe Javier Mascherano( Liverpool), one of the toughest defensive midfielders in the world several times, which won loud applause from the packed Shanghai Stadium of some 56,000 fans.

The game was featured by unimaginable tempo as both sides were determined to attack. The young Elephants showed their guts and strength with some glistering skills and quick movements.

The Ivorians created a dozen of opportunities, but just squandered in too many cases.


Editor:Yang Lina