Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's 1996 {and 2005} All Over Again

Olympic Gold Medal Match
Friday August 22nd 9 pm PST

The Olympic gold medal match will be worth watching if you can find it among NBC's ever confusing and frustratingly vague television schedule. The game is Saturday at midnight Eastern/9 pm Friday PST. Recent practice has been to show the matches "live" on the east coast on Telemundo and then again 3 hours later for the West Coast, also on Telemundo; if that holds then it will be right at midnight in the East and then shown also at midnight out West 3 hours later {don't even get me started on the stupidity of NBC showing their "live" coverage on 3 hour tape delay on the West Coast- it's 37 flavors of stupid and irritating}.

Now then, the playoffs have been very good thusfar. Argentina squaked by Netherlands 2-1 in extra time in the quarterfinals, a great match. Cameroon took Brasil to extra time 0-0, despite being a man down, before succumbing 0-2 in extra time, Nigeria beat African rivals Ivory Coast 2-0, and amazingly massive underdog Belgium beat Italy, in in incredible fashion- they went a man down and a goal down in the 18th minute, then battled back to 1-1, fell behind 1-2 with only 16 minutes left, then scored 2 goals to beat favored Italy 3-2, all while playing with 10 men for 70+ minutes.

The semifinals the other morning weren't as close but were still entertaining nonetheless. Nigeria hammered Belgium 4-1, and played amazingly well- they could have easily scored 6 or 7 goals- it was something to watch. Then El Super Classico de Sudamerica: Brasil-Argentina, with significant star power for an Olympic game: Brasil had Ronaldinho, Anderson, Pato, Jo, and others while Argentina boasted a ridiculous midfield of Riquelme, Messi, Mascherano, and Gago. Just last summer Brasil shocked Argentina 3-0 in the final of Copa America after playing decidedly average the whole tournament while Argentina played incredible soccer. Not this time. Argentina won 3-0 and deservedly so. Riquelme. Messi & co weren't as flustered by Brasil's physical play as they were in last year's final, and Brasil were pretty poor offensively- the better team on the day certainly won.

So it's down to Argentina and Nigeria, a repeat of the 1996 Olympic final in Athens, GA's Sanford Stadium when an 18 year old named Kanu captained Nigeria to the gold medal and Nigeria came from behind twice to win 3-2 on a stoppage time goal to became the first African team to win an international competition at something above the youth level.

Kanu celebrates on the hallowed turf of Sanford Stadium, 1996

More recently, these two teams met in the final of the 2005 Under 20 World Cup, with Argentina winning 2-1 as Messi drew and then converted penalties for both Argentine goals. Since the 2008 Olympic tournament is an Under 23 tournament {each team gets 3 exemptions to this rule} many of the players on both teams will be the same from that U20 World Cup final 3 years ago. In fact, Argentina will start 5 players from this match and Nigeria a whopping 8. Side note- an interesting matchup to watch out for will be Messi v Nigerian centreback Dele Adeleye; Adeleye conceded both penalties against Messi in that final.

Argentina are also defending champions, having won the 2004 tournament in Athens, Greece with a perfect record of winning every match they played in. So we'll either see a back to back championship for Argentina or another Olympic championship for Nigeria, which would be their 2nd in the last 4 Olympics and 3 of the last 4 for Africa {Cameroon 2000}.

Surely Argentina are favorites with Riquelme, Messi, Mascherano, Gago, and company, not to mention the fact that they won the Under 20 World Cup in both 2007 and 2005, but Nigeria are certainly capable of beating them if they play well. Hopefully the match can live up to it's potential as a classic showdown.

Enjoy, if you can find it on your TV...

1 comment:

Ian smith said...

Champions Argentina face Nigeria for the Olympic gold medal today in a match which promises to be every bit as exciting as their previous meeting in the final 12 years ago. On that occasion, Nigeria became the first African team to win the tournament when they won 3-2 with a last-gasp Emmanuel Amunike goal the South Americans claimed was offside. Both teams included players who went on to enjoy successful careers at senior international level.

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