Argentina power past Brazil to reach Olympic football final

Argentina remained on course to retain the Olympic football title with a comprehensive 3-0 semi-final defeat of their great rivals Brazil, who finished with nine men after two sendings-off, having been left in disarray by Lionel Messi and two goals from Sergio Aguero.
Although the victory was not without controversy, as the opening goal appeared to have possibly come off Aguero’s left upper arm rather than his chest, it was fully merited as Messi eclipsed the man he has replaced in the affections of Barcelona fans, Ronaldinho, despite Brazil’s captain beginning to get back to close to his best.
While Brazil’s wait for a first football gold medal at the Games continues, Argentina can become the first country for 40 years to be Olympic champions twice in succession. In the final on Saturday they will face Nigeria, who beat Belgium 4-1 in the other last four match in Shanghai.
If the two goals in seven minutes early in the second half from the Atletico Madrid striker Aguero were decisive, it was the brilliance of Messi that was primarily responsible for Argentina’s success, time and again thrilling a raucous crowd of 52,968 in the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing, including an ecstatic Diego Maradona.
Messi’s final flourish was the perfect pass which opened up the Brazilian defence for Aguero to draw Breno’s foul and earn a penalty converted by the Argentinian captain, Juan Riquelme, 15 minutes from the end. Before running into Argentina, Brazil had not conceded a single goal in the 2008 Olympic tournament.
The foundations were laid in Liverpool, with the unobtrusively outstanding Javier Mascherano, who has been on the field for every minute of Argentina’s games in China and now has the chance to equal the Olympic record of two golds, as the only player remaining from the squad that was victorious in Athens four years ago.
Rafa Benitez would not have relished Mascherano’s central battle in the semi-final with his Liverpool clubmate, Lucas Leiva, though it was Anderson whose second half foul on the Argentinian rightly earned the Manchester United midfielder a yellow card, one of seven handed out by the Uruguayan referee, Martin Vazquez.
But the Liverpool manager would have been incensed by the tackle from behind on the counter-attacking Mascherano by Lucas with ten minutes left that resulted in the first red card, before the Argentinian drew another rash challenge from Thiago Neves three minutes later that led to Brazil having a second player dismissed.
While Mascherano was fortunately able to pick himself up and play on each time, a similar recovery was beyond Brazil. Manchester City’s recent signing Jo and Ronaldinho’s new team-mate at AC Milan, Alexandre Pato, had been brought on by their coach, Dunga, but too late to change the outcome, despite the men in yellow twice hitting the post in the second half.