BEIJING, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Hot-favored Argentina displayed admirable determination and credentials to retain their title as they beat Serbia 2-0 in their final group match at the Beijing Olympic Games on Wednesday.
Striker Diego Buonanotte sealed the convincing win for Argentina in the 84th minute when he sent a curving free-kick into the left top corner of Serbia's goal.
Their first goal came in the 12th minute after Serbian defender Marko Jovanovic fouled down Argentinan midfielder Angel Di Maria inside the area. Buonanotte's striking partner Ezequiel Lavezzi converted the penalty with a powerful shot.
The defending champions, who had already qualified for the quarterfinals prior to the match with two wins from as many games, will vie for a semifinal berth with the Netherlands on Saturday.
As a possible semifinal with Brazil is looming large, Lavezzi said Argentina for the time being focused on the next match with the Netherlands.
"I think it's too early to talk about Brazil. We have a very tough game against Netherlands first and we have to make sure we get to the semifinals before we think of anything else. Brazil also have a difficult game ahead," he said.
From the start of the game, Argentina tried to unnerve their opponents with their characteristic quick and short one-step passes, and in the first half, the doughty Serbians withstood the South Americans' attack with solid defending except for the indiscreet foul by Jovanovic.
Lavezzi almost hit a double at the 41st minute when his shot flew past Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic but was stopped by defender Slobodan Rajkovic near the goalline.
At the 55th minute, Serbia defender Gojko Kacar shocked Agentina defence with a powerful and dipping shot outside the area, only to see it was fingertipped by the goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Though Serbia lost the match, Stojkovic turned out to be the winner of his duel with Di Maria. He stopped the latter's shot from the spot at the 79th minute when Argentina was awarded another penalty kick.
But due to the foul of Serbia defender Nenad Tomovic when Di Maria took the kick, the Argentina player got a chance to re-take it, and the result was the same -- stopped by Stojkovic again.
To the disappointment of the sold-out crowd, Argentina's playmaker Juan Riquelme and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi were left warming the bench for the whole game.
With the match going on, the fans, many of them admirers of the Barcelona player, constantly chanted "Messi" "Messi" "Messi" . But the player was rested all the time, apparently in preparation for their "clash of giants" with the Netherlands.
Messi said he could gratify the fans in the semifinals. "Sometimes I can play, sometimes it's the turn of my teammates. I hope we can win the quarterfinal to come back to Beijing and hope the fans will support us again," he said.
In the other match of the group, Cote d'Ivoire beat Australia 1-0 to advance to the final eight. They will face another African team Nigeria in the quarterfinals at Saturday.