By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport in Athens
Argentina's footballers sank to their knees in pure delight after ending 11 years of
hurt in major competitions by taking Olympic gold.
Argentina celebrate - but the sparse crowd have gone home
But you can be sure that if they had been allowed to choose the setting for their historic
triumph, it would not have been a half-empty stadium at 10 o'clock in the morning.
While millions of fans in Argentina and Paraguay tuned in to watch the first Olympic final
between South American nations for 76 years, most of Athens was having a Saturday
Not even pleas from Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Greek Football Association chief
Vassilis Gagatsis to fill the stadium could pull in the punters.
It might have been different if the home nation had not suffered an early exit from the
competition, or if Iraq had not lost to Paraguay in the semi-finals.
But large chunks of empty seats and a noise level that rarely rose above a low hum
were testament to the harsh truth that, at the Olympics, the 'people's game' is just
An evening kick-off would certainly have helped, as it did in Sydney four years ago.
With the climax of the athletics programme set for Saturday evening, however, the
game was sandwiched into the only available slot at the Olympic stadium.
"It wasn't a natural time to play," admitted Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa.
"It's like asking a worker to break his natural routine and work from two to four in the
The build-up to the Games had been marred by an unseemly row between Fifa and the
World Anti-doping Agency, which at one point threatened to see the football competition
In the end there was an uneasy truce as Fifa signed up to the Wada code, still indicating
that it would follow its own interpretation of the rules.
When the tournament began, the expected wave of post-Euro 2004 enthusiasm failed
ARGENTINA'S 2004 OLYMPICS
Goals scored: 17
Goals against: 0
"At some matches, I could have shaken the hand of everyone in the stadium," said
There was no shortage of talent on display, with European club managers like
Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson left fuming at having to do without stars such as
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gabriel Heinze.
Bielsa took most of his Copa America squad to the Games, including Heinze and
Valencia's Roberto Ayala, in a bid to make up for the disappointment of losing to Brazil
in the final last month.
It paid off as his side took their first football gold courtesy of a first-half goal from Boca
Juniors sensation Carlos Tevez.
The striker's eighth goal of the campaign was enough to deny Paraguay, who had
stunned Brazil in qualifying to book their ticket to Athens.
The runners-up ended up with just nine men on the field, after Emilio Martinez and
Diego Figueredo were sent off in the second half.
And by the time they stood on the podium to receive Paraguay's first ever Olympic
medal, most of the crowd had drifted away, no doubt looking forward to an evening of