Relief for Argentina as Messi boards for Beijing

Did you feel that slight breeze at around 2pm yesterday?

That was the collective sigh of relief from 35 million Argentinians as Lionel Messi was freed by Barcelona for the national Olympic squad. Slight exaggeration? Well yes, but there can't be a man, woman or dog in the country that isn't pleased to see Argentina's new prodigal son in the team.

Argentina in recent World Cup qualifiers and friendlies have been lacklustre, even with Messi. But the Barça player adds a touch of flair, bordering on the genius. His sidekick Aguero is undoubtedly a great player, but has failed to skip past defences in the way Messi can.

Bye bye Barca: Messi departs for Olympics

Fortunately, their rivals, and fellow favourites in the gold medal betting stakes, Brazil have been even worse. Utter failures in World Cup qualifying (they lost against Venezuela for Ronaldo's sake), Brazil are a merely a group of 11 good players without any coherence.

With only eight days until the opening ceremony - which given the heritage of vast displays in China might actually be worth watching for the first hour - coach Checho Batista's team still remain joint favourites.

It all kicks off next Thursday as they take on the Ivory Coast.