Soccer - Argentina win gold with Di Maria gem
BEIJING (Reuters) - Argentina retained their Olympic soccer title by beating Nigeria 1-0 on Saturday with a stunning Angel Di Maria goal in a final adversely affected by scorching conditions.
Di Maria, guilty of a remarkable double penalty-miss in a group game against Serbia, broke clear of the Nigeria defence and clipped the ball over Ambruse Vanzekin in the 58th minute as the on-pitch temperature hit 42 Celsius.
Wilting in the searing heat, the Argentines survived a torrid half hour of Nigerian pressure to cling on for victory.
The midday showdown at the Bird's Nest was a repeat of the 1996 final, which Nigeria won 3-2 to become the first African team to win the tournament.
Both coaches said their teams suffered in the heat, which also made fully-suited FIFA president Sepp Blatter and vice-president Julio Grondona look uncomfortable as they handed out medals and flowers in the victory ceremony.
"I think it actually affected both countries," Nigeria's Samson Siasia told reporters. "Most players didn't perform to their best level because of the heat.
The Olympic soccer tournament is restricted to under-23 teams with each allowed to field up to three over-age players.
"Of course, it was not the same spectacle as it would have been (with an evening kick off), today it was very hot and the players felt it," said Argentina coach Sergio Batista.
Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, taking part as an over-age player, was the only survivor of the Argentina team that won in Athens.
"We came with the plan of winning the gold medal and we've done it," said mercurial playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, another over-age player. "It was a beautiful experience, I enjoyed some moments which were very different to the ones we are used to."
The first half was played at walking pace and there were no clear cut chances before the first of two much-needed water breaks, which had been previously been agreed on by FIFA and team officials, on the half hour.
Peter Odemwingie created Nigeria's first opening shortly afterwards when he broke down the left and sent a low ball across the face of the goal that Promise Isaac just failed to reach.
Di Maria then produced Argentina's first real effort with an out-swinging 25-metre shot which was turned away by Vanzekin.
After the re-start, Lionel Messi had a shot fisted away by Vanzekin before setting up the goal. The Barcelona player slipped a pass to Di Maria who broke clear on the halfway line and beat Vanzekin with an exquisite finish.
Nigeria sprang to life, as Victor Obinna had a shot saved by Sergio Romero and Victor Anichebe's close-range effort was saved by the Argentine goalkeeper at the second attempt.
In between, Messi was foiled by a last-ditch tackle from Apam Onyekachi.
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