Emotions have been running high in Argentina as thousands bid farewell to football idol Diego Maradona as he lies in state at the Casa Rosada.
Whenever the debate of who is better out of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi arises, the Ronaldo fans always bring up the same argument: international success.
With neither of them having won a World Cup, the only international honour that separates the two is Ronaldo’s 2016 European Championship, compared to Messi’s infamous lack of Copa América titles despite Argentina being runners-up on three occasions. Cristiano Ronaldo’s success with Portugal looks to be a clear upper hand in the greatest of all-time debate.
However, many media outlets have turned a blind eye to an achievement with Argentina that Messi accomplished over a decade ago. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Messi won a gold medal.
The reason that Olympic football isn’t as nearly renowned as the World Cup or the Euros is because of the strict age guidelines put in place in order for teams to qualify. For a nation to qualify, each of the six continental football federations holds either an Under-21 or Under-23 tournament within their continent.
Depending on the strength of the federation, between one to five countries are entered into the Olympics on the back of these tournaments, as well as the host nation who gains automatic qualification. For the actual Olympics Games, occasionally, exceptions to the age-requirement rule are made.
For example, in 2012, 38-year-old Ryan Giggs competed in the games for quarter-finalists Great Britain. The reason that so few senior players chose to participate in the games is because it overlaps with the club football season. Due to these age restrictions, the Olympics are more of a tournament for up-and-coming talent as opposed to names that are currently dominating world football and have been on the international scene for years on end.
In men’s football at the 2008 Summer Olympics, a star-studded Argentina took out the gold medal, defeating Nigeria 1:0 in the final in front of 89,102 people at Beijing National Stadium. This Argentine squad included 21-year-old Lionel Messi as well as a young Ángel Di María, Sergio Agüero, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Romero and many more. Messi finished the tournament tied fourth for goals scored with two (one in the group stage and one in the quarter-final).
In order to go to the Olympic Games in 2008, Lionel Messi required permission from his long-term club Barcelona. Leading up to 2008, it looked that Messi wouldn’t be granted this approval until new manager Pep Guardiola (1992 gold medalist for Spain in football) empathised with the young star and gave him permission to go.
As recalled by Lionel Messi, “Pep was phenomenal with me as nobody wanted me to go to the Olympics with the national team, but I wanted to go. He was the one who gave me the permission.”
Despite a gold medal at the Olympic Games not being as respected in the football community as a European Championship or a Copa América title, it is still an achievement nonetheless and deserves to be mentioned whenever the debate on Messi’s lack of international success arises.