Saturday's showdown was a repeat of the 1996 Atlanta final, which Nigeria won 3-2 to become the first African team to win the tournament.

The only football game to be played in Beijing's Olympic stadium was watched by a near capacity crowd that included Argentine footballing legend Diego Maradona.

In the searing heat, the first half of the match saw some scrappy play with both sides making a series of mistakes and misplaced passes as the game moved at little more than walking pace.

Argentina in particular played disappointing in the first half.

After Nigerian Peter Odenwingie's free kick tested the Argentine goalkeeper into a diving save in the sixth minute, Juan Roman Riquelme fired one over the bar.

Barcelona player Lionel Messi had a penalty appeal turned down when he tumbled over Dele Adeleye's challenge and was told to play on by the referee.

Players sweated through temperatures topping 40C [GALLO/GETTY]
After the first drink break Nigeria almost went ahead when Odemwingie crossed from the left and Promise Isaac just missed the ball in front of goal.

The ball came back and Isaac's looping header was saved by Romero above his head.

Argentina almost made a breakthrough when Di Maria’s 30-meter shot was just pushed round the post by Nigerian keeper Ambruse Vanzekin.

After an uninspiring first half, Messi pulled out some of his magic in the 50th minute, firing a left-footed drive past the defender, only to have Vanzekin punch it clear.

But eight minutes later Messi’s pass helped set up the winning goal for Benfica midfielder Di Maria to break the Nigerian defence and clip the ball over the keeper and into the net.

From then on the Argentines fended off half an hour of Nigerian pressure to cling on to the gold.

Victor Obinna had a chance to level the match five minutes later, but he fluffed a clear shot at the goal shooting instead straight at the goalkeeper.

Friday saw Brazil take the football bronze medal after beating Belgium 3-0 in Shanghai.