Giant on the move
Argentina see off sorry Brazil
The cheers before kickoff in the Beijing Workers’ Stadium were for five-times world champions Brazil and Ronaldinho. At the final whistle, the Chinese crowd rose to acclaim Argentina after a 3-0 win against nine-man Brazil sent them through to the Olympic final.
China may be a relatively untapped soccer market, but the 50,000 plus crowd knew that the best team had won on the night.
The Olympic tournament, with its uneasy format of under-23s and a smattering of over-age players, has plenty of critics, but Brazil v Argentina is a big match in any competition.
So much so that even the ultra-efficient Beijing organisers struggled to shoehorn the hundreds of accredited press and associated media folk into the seating reserved for them. The post-match press conference was an all-ticket affair, with Portuguese and Spanish-speaking reporters given priority.
Argentina, inspired by captain Juan Roman Riquelme and the darting Lionel Messi, made their superiority count after halftime, running in their three goals in the space of less than 20 minutes.
All the marginal decisions went their way – Brazil appealed in vain for offside when Sergio Aguero scored his second to put Argentina 2-0 ahead. Shortly after Brazil’s Pato had the ball in the net, but this time the goal was ruled out for offside and there was no way back.
So plenty to think about for national coach Dunga, who has given the impression during this tournament of wishing he were elsewhere. Plenty too to ponder for Ronaldinho, who looked out of sorts as he prepares for life with AC Milan after a disappointing final season with Barcelona.
For defending champions Argentina, it’s a showdown at noon on Saturday with Nigeria in the Bird’s Nest Stadium. That’s a repeat of the 1996 final, a cracking match won 3-2 by Nigeria thanks to two late goals.
Let’s hope the two teams can defy the heat and serve up another classic for the maligned Olympic soccer tournament.
PHOTO: Argentina’s Lionel Messi (L) speaks with Brazil’s Ronaldinho after Argentina won their semi-final soccer match in Worker’s Stadium during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar