Young Lionel Messi knocked Ronaldinho out of the 2008 Olympics and went on to win gold medal with star-studded Argentina team, including Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria

Lionel Messi broke the heart of his close friend Ronaldinho on the way to winning Olympic gold in 2008.

Aged just 21, the Argentina talisman represented his country at the Beijing games, where he came up against his former club teammate.

Messi’s Argentina knocked Ronaldinho’s Brazil out in the semi-final

This was nearly not the case however, as Barcelona chiefs initially barred Messi from participating because the tournament clashed with Champions League qualifying matches.

Having only just been appointed in the job, manager Pep Guardiola intervened and allowed his starlet to travel to Beijing.

Guardiola himself had captained Spain to gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and so recognised what this competition meant to Messi.

One month earlier, Ronaldinho had announced his departure from Camp Nou, following five years as an icon at the club.

Messi had learned a lot from the Brazilian in his formative years as he broke into the first team and played alongside him.

Ronaldinho’s move to AC Milan was seen as a passing of the torch at Barca with Messi eyed to take over the mantle as their new star man.

This was only emphasised further by the meeting at the 2008 Olympics.

Argentina started well at the tournament, winning all three of their group games.

Messi scored the opener in a 2-1 win over an Ivory Coast side which featured Salomon Kalou (aged 23) and Gervinho (21).

Guardiola gave Messi permission to travel

He impressed further in the 1-0 win over Australia and was rested for a 2-0 beating of Serbia, who had Aleksandar Kolarov (22) and Dusan Tadic (19) among their ranks.

Brazil matched their bitter South American rivals and also won all three of their group games too.

They opened with a tough 1-0 win over a very strong Belgium side.

Their squad featured several future stars in Vincent Kompany (22), Thomas Vermaelen (22), Marouane Fellaini (20), Kevin Mirallas (20), Jan Vertonghen (21) and Mousa Dembele (21).

After this though, Brazil were able to comfortably thrash New Zealand 5-0, with Ronaldinho getting a brace, and then beat China 3-0.

Each team had to submit a squad of 18 players – 15 Under-23s and a maximum of three older exceptions

In the quarter-finals, both Argentina and Brazil were taken to extra-time.

The legendary Diego Maradona cheered from the stands as Messi scored and assisted in a 2-1 win against the Netherlands, who had Ryan Babel (21).

While Brazil came through with a 2-0 victory over Cameroon, a disappointment for Alex Song (20).

Now it was finally time for the two strongest teams in the tournament to meet.

Argentina’s side featured a number of future world class stars

Aside from just Messi and Ronaldinho, both countries were packed with talent.

Argentina’s squad included Sergio Aguero (20), Juan Roman Riquelme (30), Angel Di Maria (20), Javier Mascherano (24), Pablo Zabaleta (23), Fernando Gago (22), Ever Banega (20), Ezequiel Lavezzi (23) and Sergio Romero (21).

While Brazil boasted Thiago Silva (23), Marcelo (20), Anderson (20), Lucas Leiva (21), Alexandre Pato (18), Ramires (21) and Rafinha (22).

Their semi-final was highly anticipated and a crowd of 53,000 turned out in Beijing.

Argentina were too strong for Brazil

Remarkably, it ended up a relatively one-sided affair.

Messi troubled the Brazil defence early, though they held firm and the game remained level at half-time.

Aguero broke the deadlock on 52 minutes and then added a second not long later as Messi helped prise open the opposition defence.

Messi played a key role in the creation of the third goal too, feeding Aguero who was brought down in the area.

Messi went straight to Ronaldinho after the win

Riquelme converted from the spot to wrap up the game – a 3-0 win for Argentina.

At full-time, Messi walked over to the heartbroken Ronaldinho who had failed in his pursuit of Brazil’s first ever football Olympic gold.

Messi hugged him and consoled him in the middle of the pitch.

Ronaldinho did not go home empty handed as Brazil beat Belgium again, this time 3-0, in the bronze medal match.

The following day, Messi created a moment of magic in the final against Nigeria.

Messi created the winning goal in the final

He played an exquisite pass to Di Maria who then lobbed the goalkeeper to snatch a 1-0 win in the second-half.

It was gold for Argentina and gold for Messi.

He reflected to ESPN years later: “It was a spectacular experience for me to play in the Olympics, not just because we won, but for the experience I gained.

“It was a great experience to stay in the Olympic Village and meet other elite athletes from other sports and to be just another athlete among them.

“That was very spectacular even though we didn’t spend a lot of time in the village.

“The World Cup is great but the Olympics are something special.”

The Olympic gold medal was a special prize for the young Messi
He very much enjoyed taking his place on the podium…
And delighted in celebrating with Aguero, who posted the picture of the two with their medals in the aftermath of the recent Copa America victory they shared together
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