Olympics: Messi to the Fore in Late Gold Rush at Olympics

The Olympic Games enters its penultimate day Saturday with a 32-final gold rush including the men's football decider between Lionel Messi's Argentina and Nigeria.


On the track, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele runs to become the first man in 28 years to win the elusive long-distance running double, and the first day of boxing finals starts for the first time without a US fighter.

The Olympics have gone largely according to plan for China, as they wrested the title of the world sports power from an under-performing United States.

China have 47 gold medals and 89 in total, ahead of the United States (31-102), Great Britain (18-44) and Russia (17-57). There are 44 gold medals to be won on the last two days.

There have been few drugs scandals, few protesters and the usually ever-present thick smog eased noticeably as the Games progressed.

But in the United States there will undoubtedly be much soul-searching into their frequent flops which ranged from being shut out of all track sprint golds and not making any boxing finals for the first time ever.

Argentina defend their Olympic men's football gold against Nigeria, in a match that departs from the evening kick-off for all preliminary matches and will be played under the blazing midday sun.

The switch is so the final can be accommodated before 91,000 spectators in the Bird's Nest where nighttime priority remains with athletics.

Barcelona's Messi heads a galaxy of European-based Argentinian stars and his virtuoso performance which kept Brazil at bay in their semi-final shortened their odds considerably going into the final.

However, the Nigerians don't lack confidence and they maintain their self-belief that they can repeat their success of 12 years ago when they beat the South Americans in the 1996 Atlanta Games final.

Football heads a raft of team sports winding up with finals also in baseball, women's basketball, handball, men's hockey and women's volleyball.

There are also finals in canoeing, mountain bike racing, diving, rhythmnic gymnastics, synchronised swimming, table tennis and taekwondo.

The track highlight promises to be Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele's attempt to add the men's 5,000m to his 10,000m title.

Fellow Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba has already achieved the double at the these games, becoming the first runner to succeed since another Ethiopian, Miruts Yifter, at the 1980 Moscow Games.

The United States, making a late bid for track prestige have the men's and women's 4x400 metres relays within their grasp, based on heat times and as long as they can hold on to the baton, an error which cost them dearly in the 4x100m relays.

China should complete a clean sweep of all eight diving medals with Zhou Luxin favoured to win the final event, the men's 10m platform.

Olympic baseball powerhouse Cuba will defend their title against South Korea - bringing the curtain down on baseball's short-lived, five-Games appearance.

The Cubans, who dispatched the United States in the semi-finals, have won three of the four previous Olympic baseball tournaments. The sport will drop off the Olympic schedule after Beijing.

Other team finals see the United States and Australia battle for the women's basketball gold, Norway play Russia in women's handball, world champions Germany play Spain for the men's hockey gold and the United States verse Brazil in the women's volleyball final.

It will be the third straight USA-Australia fight for the basketball title, after America's victories in Athens and in Sydney.

Source: AFP

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