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Italian men’s soccer team bounced out of Beijing

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Medal favorite Italy, featuring New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi, was surprisingly knocked out of the men’s Olympic soccer tournament by Belgium on Saturday as Argentina, Brazil and Nigeria also advanced to the semifinals.

Rossi scored two goals, both on a penalty kicks, to take his total to a tournament-leading four, but it was not enough for the 2004 bronze medal winners.

The Belgians got two goals from Moussa Dembele, including the game-winner in the 80th minute in Beijing, but it was his first goal, in the 24th minute that was the cause of controversy.

It came on a header off a corner kick, with Italian defender Luca Cigarini appearing to clear the ball off the goal line, but referee Hector Baldassi allowed the goal amid Italian protests.

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Afterward, former Italian international Pierluigi Casiraghi, now Italy’s Olympic coach, effectively ended the debate. “I did not see it,” he said. “Even on TV, I did not see it. This is not an important matter now.”

Belgium, which is taking part in its first Olympic soccer tournament since 1928 after winning the gold in 1920, will play Nigeria in Shanghai in the semifinals on Tuesday.

In Shenyang, Brazil got two goals in a five-minute spell in overtime to defeat Cameroon, the Sydney 2000 gold medal winner, 2-0, and keep alive its hopes of a first-ever gold medal after twice winning the silver.

Cameroon was reduced to 10 men after the ejection of Albert Banning seven minutes into the second half, but it was not until the 101st minute that Rafael Sobis put Brazil ahead. Marcelo scored a second goal four minutes later.

Nigeria, the 1996 gold medal winner at Atlanta and the team that knocked the U.S. out of this tournament, also reached the final four by defeating the Ivory Coast, 2-0, in Qinhuangdao.

A goal by Peter Odemwingie just before halftime and a late penalty kick goal by Victor Obinna were enough to send the Nigerians through.

In front of 56,000 in Shanghai, Lionel Messi scored the first goal and created the second as Argentina, the gold medal favorite, overcame the Netherlands, 2-1, in overtime.

The Barcelona star, whose participation in the Olympics was the source of a bitter club-versus-country feud before the Games began, put Argentina ahead in the 14th minute.

The Dutch tied it up on a goal by Otman Bakkal in the 36th minute, but an astute pass by Messi in the 105th minute set up Angel Di Maria for the Argentines’ winning goal.

Argentina will play Brazil in the semifinals on Tuesday in a game that will pit Messi against Ronaldinho in a clash between two of soccer’s biggest names.

-- Grahame L. Jones


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