Magic Messi the man once more to scrape Argentina through
World Cup second-favourites Argentina (7/2) extended their unbeaten record against Switzerland to seven matches now, but left it incredibly late in this last 16 match, with Lionel Messi predictably heavily involved again.
As they did against Iran, Alejandro Sabella’s side scored right at the death, except this time deep into extra time, thanks to an angled pass into the back of the net by Angel Di Maria, which was laid on by the Barcelona superstar.
Argentina have now won all four of their games at these finals, but just by one goal, but they next go up against Belgium, who have scraped through this tournament so far in similar fashion to the South Americans.
The duo meet on July 7th for a place in the semi-finals, with Sabella’s boys favourites at evens to win in 90 minutes. However, with neither country living up to expectations in terms of style, this could go all the way to penalties.
So close was the game with Switzerland, that even the great Messi admitted he was worried about exiting.
“I was nervous towards the end because we couldn’t score and any mistake could have knocked us out,” the 27-year-old said.
“The minutes were passing and we didn’t want the match to go to penalties. We were suffering but had a special play.”
Even after Di Maria’s 118th minute winner, Swiss substitute Blerim Dzemaili could have taken the game into a shootout, when he headed onto the post unmarked, before scuffing the rebound wide.
While the final few minutes of extra time were exciting to watch, the rest of the match was not. Switzerland certainly caused problems for Argentina, preventing them and Messi from working their magic too much. However, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men failed to get a shot on target after the 50th minute.
It is fair to say that the South Americans had the better of the chances in the match, with the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, who stood in for the injured Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Di Maria having chances in the first half.
It was Switzerland that could’ve taken the lead, though, but Sergio Romero did well to save shots from Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichtsteiner in quick succession. That followed a great chance by Josip Drmic, who tamely chipped his attempt into the keeper’s hands.
From then on the Swiss looked tired in the second half, and Argentine left back Marcos Rojo tested Diego Benaglio with a well-hit shot from a tight angle after an hour. Besides that, though, the South Americans were limited to just half chances from sub Rodrigo Palacio and Rojo again.
Messi, though, who has four goals this World Cup and is favourite to be top scorer at 5/2, found energy to go on one of his mazy runs, but his shot was straight at the keeper.
Switzerland’s top scorer in qualifying, centre back Fabian Schar, had an opportunity to win the game in injury time with a header from a free-kick, but sent it well over.
The game went into extra time and the Swiss army’s hopes were cruelly cut apart right at the end, when Messi, who looked exhausted at this point, somehow found a turn of pace to feed Di Maria for the winner.
Argentina march on to the quarters, but it is the end of Hitzfeld’s managerial career. The 65-year-old German leaves the game after this cruel defeat, but has enjoyed a stellar 31-years in charge of clubs.