Sunday, August 24, 2008
Football final fails to match hype
To label this year's Olympic football final, as dull and colourless would be the biggest understatement of the year. The much anticipated game between two teams, with different styles in Nigeria and Argentina, failed to match the hype.
With Nigeria's male football teams, popularly referred to as the Eagles, playing in the national stadium in Beijing, also known as the Bird's Nest, it was the perfect place to lay a golden egg. With high expectations for the West African nation this magnificent nest was not conducive enough to provide the 18 gold medals the Africans dearly dreamed of.
As the game started, the Africans came out flat and looked uninspired amid all the talk leading up to the game. After all the emotions and revenge comments, Nigeria looked timid and afraid in the early part of the game.
The biggest culprit for the 'Dream Team' was their captain, Isaac Promise. The player who failed to start the last two matches in the knockout phase looked out of shape and lacked the speed and panache his fellow forwards produced.
Isaac failed to deliver on any promise as he missed the best two opportunities to put the South Americans away in the first half. His lack of pace and inability to react quickly, meant Argentina escaped danger, and Nigeria's best chances before half time, resulted in no goals.
It raised the question as to the whereabouts of the crafty and speedy Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi. Apparently Ogbuke has an injured shin and could not walk. Unfortunately, the Nigerian's would miss out on a player with great potential. Ogbuke Obasi's pace and combination with Peter Odemwingie was sorely missed by the African nation, especially in the second half.
Not to take anything away from Argentina, they dominated the midfield with total experience. Their lack of speed in that area meant a game that would drag, as they picked their spots with the cautious Africans.
With the Mascherano and young Fernando Gago sitting in the holding midfield spot, this allowed a slow, but cunning Juan Roman Riquelme to roam at will. Riquelme's passes split the midfield whenever the Nigerians bulged, which was often. Riquelme's ability to frustrate Nigeria deep into the game was obvious and his passes, very dangerous as well.
No one player dominated the game as much as the orchestrator, Lionel Messi. The Nigerian coach had pointed this was their focus, but no one could really stop the 21-year dynamo. Not only was the original Diego Maradona among the over 89,000 in attendance, some would have thought he was on the field, running Olympic rings around the entire Nigerian team.
Messi was a thorn in the flesh to the Africans, and this was a constant from the blast of the whistle. The resulting goal from teenager Angel Di Maria was created from the sneaky forward.
Before and after the goal, the game dragged and lacked that major spark. It begged the question, why this final was played in the incredible midday heat and at the Bird's Nest? An architectural design unmatched anywhere today, the final game was cramped into a tight schedule with track and field also set for that venue.
Obviously, football is just another scheduled event, but the final should have taken place at the Beijing Workers Stadium, a ground more familiar with the sport, during the Games.
The quality of pitch didn't help matters either. With field events on the pitch, you could somewhat notice the patches and areas where Discus Throw, Javelin or Hammer Throw had crippled parts of the pitch.
The one question that irks the most is; since when did we allow time outs in football? One would assume only certain countries and sports take such idle breaks during matches. The last time I witnessed anything that absurd in football, was an experiment from FIFA at the U-20 level, in the 90's.
Though not completely analogous, because this break was purely due to the heat, football does not have long breaks during the game, unless a player is down, dubious or otherwise.
So with all these elements affecting the game, what did fans expect? A better game, Yes! These are professionals. Both teams were cautious, an obvious respect for one another, which is commendable, but over 89,000 in 'The Nest' and millions watching worldwide wanted a game worthy of a true final match-up.
Overall the better team won regardless of the patchy performance. A team for the future, Argentina played according to plan. With Messi and Riquelme allowed to roam freely on the field, Kun Aguero and goal scorer Di Maria were other bright lights causing havocs to a disciplined African backline that was punished for one of its few mistakes.
• Sulaiman Folarin is a columnist for ESPNsoccernet and contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.