Final Men: Argentina celebrate landmark Olympic gold
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ATHENS, August 28 (Olympics) - Argentina finished the job they started two years ago at the World Championships by finally capturing a gold medal at the Olympics in Athens.
Superstar forward Luis Scola poured in 25 points to lead the South Americans to an 84-69 triumph over a determined but tired Italy.
Argentina beat the United States in Indianapolis and made it all the way to the final before losing to Yugoslavia in controversial circumstances in 2002.
The Argentinians believed they would have won the game at the end of regulation had Hugo Sconochini been awarded free throws after falling hard
to the court on a drive to the basket. There was no foul called on that play, and Yugoslavia won in overtime.
Things were different at the Olympics here in Athens.
After beating Greece in the quarter-finals and then overcoming Team USA in a semi, they proved a class above Carlo Recalcati's Italy even though starting centre Fabricio Oberto was unavailable after breaking an arm in the semi-final.
The Azzurri trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half but clawed their way back to just 43-41 at half-time.
Italy took a 54-51 advantage with 4:43 remaining in the third quarter when Gianluca Basile made a three-pointer.
It would prove to be shortlived because Argentina were not to be denied.
After a Ruben Wolkowyski shot down low, Scola scored on a fast break for a 55-54 lead and was fouled on the play by Rodolfo Rombaldoni.
He made the free throw for a 56-54 lead, and Ruben Magnano's men were in front for the remainder of the game.
The Azzurri did, with a three-pointer by Massimo Bulleri and then a drive by the Benetton Treviso guard come to life early in the fourth quarter to close to within two at 61-59, but Alejandro Montecchia's three-pointer with 8:04 left started a 12-1 run and the Argentinians were in control.
Scola had 11 rebounds to go with his points barrage.
Montecchia was deadly, pouring in 17 points in just 17 minutes, while Emanuel Ginobili had 16 points on four of six shooting.
Argentina had a decisive edge on the boards, outrebounding their opponents 38-26.
Italy didn't shoot the ball as nearly as well as they did against Lithuania, when they buried 18 of 28 three-pointers and went on to hit the century mark in points.
Recalcati's men were 22 of 58 (38%) from the field against Argentina, including 11 of 31 (35%) on three-point shots.
Matteo Soragna and Gianmarco Pozzecco had 12 points apiece for Italy.
It was a memorable day for the Latin American victors whose footballing countrymen had won the soccer tournament earlier in the day to win the country's first Olympic gold in 52 years.
The next one was not long in coming.
From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Athens
Emanuel GINOBILI, guard (ARG)
On the gold medal:
"It's an amazing feeling. Dancing, celebrating in the court and hear the fans cheering on you. It's unbelievable. After 52 years without a gold medal in team sports for Argentina, we made it twice (football and basketball) in a day. It's difficult to describe and express my feelings. I want to cry and at the same time to laugh. I can't wait go back in Argentina and see the joy in the face of our people."
On representing his country in the Olympics:
"It's something different. You can't compare it with anything. You don't play for money, you only play for the pride of your country and this is a very unique feeling, especially when you participate in the biggest sport event, the Olympic Games."
Luis SCOLA, center (ARG)
On their sucess:
"It's my happiest day of my life. My biggest dream came true. I participate in the Olympic Games and I won the gold medal. From my childhood, I was waiting for this moment. I never forget the moments we lived here in Athens. I thank God I was here. We played a great tournament, we won the gold medal and we took back what we deserved two years ago. The best place in the world."
Ruben MAGNANO, Head Coach (ARG)
"We are living through terribly exciting moments of joy for our sport and our country. I am proud of leading this group of players to the gold medal. Their work has been brilliant through the entire tournament, overcoming very difficult obstacles. Two years ago in Indianapolis, we were denied a gold medal, but we got one more shot at a final and we made it. It is the result of our work. We had a dream right from the start. The individual has no limits in all parts of life, and this is also true for Basketball. We were hungry to fulfil our dream, and this medal, we have earned it."
Rodolfo ROMBALDONI, Guard (ITA)
"It was an incredible experience for us earning this silver medal. Of course we believed we could go all the way, but believing it and making it is a totally different thing. We lost the final, but overall we are satisfied. We lost the gold, but we have the silver, and just thinking of it goves me shivers."
Carlo RECALCATI, Head Coach (ITA)
"I am proud of what we have achieved. We lost to a great opponent, one of the top teams in the world together with Lithuania and the United States. They were better than us today, but taking the silver home is definitely a victory. We should have been able to close the gap in the second half, but the game ended in pain for us. Nevertheless, congratulations to Argentina; we realise that the best team won."
Carlos DELFINO, Guard (ARG)
"It was a huge game for us, and the chance to overcome a thorn on our side from two years ago in a much-discussed game. When things got complicated in the final, we knew how to react and we did."
Source: Athens news service