Messi makes ideal start

Beijing, August 7:

Lionel Messi scored one goal and set up another as reigning Olympic football champions Argentina began the defence of their title with a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast in Shanghai after a ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) threatened the Barcelona star’s participation.

But someone with even more reason for celebration at the Games on Thursday was US distance runner Lopez Lomong.

The Sudan-born 1500 metre specialist was chosen as the American flag-bearer for Friday’s opening ceremony despite only becoming a US citizen in July 2007 after being kidnapped aged six and spending 10 years in a refugee camp.

Messi took the field 24 hours after a CAS verdict that clubs were free to prevent their players taking part in the Games because the Olympic tournament did not feature in the official calendar of world football governing body FIFA. “We have decided to let ‘Leo’ Messi play in the Olympics,” Barcelona technical secretary Txiki Begiristain said.

The decision was made after Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola had held talks with the player. Argentina’s South American neighbours Brazil, struggled to a 1-0 win over a Belgium side reduced to nine men after both Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini were sent-off. And it needed a header two minutes from time by Manchester United striker Dong Fangzhou to ensure hosts China scraped a 1-1 draw against a New Zealand side down a man for more than half the game when defender Steven Old was red-carded for handball.

Meanwhile, giant 2.26 metre basketball star Yao Ming was announced today as China’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony. However, that still left open the question of whom the Chinese would choose to light the Olympic flame.