Argentina vs. Switzerland: 6 Things We Learned
Lionel Messi's Argentina are through to the final eight of the World Cup after a nervy 1-0 win over Switzerland.
After a disjointed first half which the Swiss had the better of, Argentina began to take control of the match.
They could not find a goal in regular time, however.
Extra time was needed to decide the contest, which was settled by a late, late Angel Di Maria goal after an incisive Messi run.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Hitzfeld's Plan to Stop Messi Involved a Bevy of Midfielders
In the lead-up to the game, Swiss coach Otmar Hitzfeld hinted at a plan to stop Lionel Messi, without revealing what it was.
Once the match got underway, the plan became clear: to surround the Argentine No. 10 with a trio of Swiss players.
Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler and Granit Xhaka were usually the men charged with keeping Messi quiet.
Their job was to cut off supply to the Albicelestes' main man by blocking passing routes and, if he did get the ball, to close in as a pack and get it off him as quickly as possible.
The first part of the plan worked quite well, but eventually the ball began to find its way to Argentina's captain, and containing him from that point becomes easier said than done.
Tactical Fouling Is Effective
Another tactic employed by the Swiss was to rotate the fouling among different players so as to lessen the chances of receiving yellow cards.
This served to break up play and stunt Argentina's fluidity in attack.
Angel Di Maria in particular was the victim of constant rough tackles from his opponents, but because the fouling was distributed among a host of Swiss players, the referee was less inclined to brandish a card for repeat offences.
This Hasn't Been Di Maria's World Cup so Far, but He's Still a Match-Winner
Coming off a fabulous season with Real Madrid, Di Maria was expected to be one of Argentina's key contributors during this World Cup.
The lanky wide man has not lived up to those expectations so far, however.
There have been a few moments of class, but in general he has been off his game.
The match against Switzerland marked his worst performance of the competition to date. His passing was sloppy, his decision making questionable and he lost too much possession.
He'll need to improve as the tournament goes on in order to take some pressure off Messi.
One thing that Di Maria can be depended on to do, though, is to keep running for 90 minutes—or 120 if required.
As others faded, the Real Madrid man kept going strong, and he was in just the right place to capitalise on Messi's brilliant run in the 118th minute.
Inler Is Switzerland's Heartbeat
Xherdan Shaqiri might have grabbed most of the headlines for Switzerland this World Cup, but Inler is arguably the side's most important player.
After a superb first half in which he bossed the midfield, allowing his team to edge the contest, Inler ran out of legs to some degree in the second term.
As a consequence, Switzerland lost control of the centre of the pitch and Argentina were able to dictate play.
Argentina Have a Left-Back Problem
Argentina came into this tournament with a dearth of options at left-back.
Though singled out as a weak point before the competition got underway, Marcos Rojo has had a fine time of it in Brazil, performing consistently well in each game.
The yellow card he received against Switzerland was his second of the World Cup, meaning he will miss Argentina's next match.
There is no like-for-like replacement in the squad, so Sabella will have to rely on a makeweight in the quarter-final.
Jose Maria Basanta, who is normally a centre-back, replaced a tiring Rojo in extra time against the Swiss and will likely get a start in Argentina's next outing.
You Need a Generous Slice of Luck to Win a World Cup
For all Argentina's dominance throughout the second half and extra time, they could have been thrown into the lottery of penalties right at the death if Blerim Dzemaili had not contrived to miss a sensational chance.
The Swiss substitute found himself free right in front of goal and latched on to a cross from the right.
His header smashed against the upright, rebounded back into him and bounced harmlessly out.
Argentina were extremely lucky not to concede.
Few teams achieve World Cup glory without a healthy dollop of luck, however. Sabella's men should be thankful it's going their way.