Angel Di Maria sent Argentina into the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals with an extra-time winner against Switzerland in a tense round-of-16 match on Tuesday at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.
With both teams scoreless in the 118th minute, the match seemed destined for penalties before Lionel Messi led a lethal Argentina counter, laying off for Di Maria to slot home the winner. Switzerland substitute Blerim Dzemaili then hit the post with a header in the dying moments, setting up a tense finale before Argentina held on for the 1-0 victory.
The win sent Argentina into the quarter-finals for the third straight World Cup, with the Albiceleste set to take on either Belgium or the United States on Saturday in Brasilia.
But to maintain their quest for a third title—and first since 1986—Alejandro Sabella's side will have to improve offensively after being shut down for most of the 120 minutes by Switzerland. The Europeans shackled Messi in particular for the majority of the match, with the Argentine superstar failing to record a shot until midway through the second half.
As B/R contributor Sam Tighe noted, the whole team deserved credit for stopping Argentina, with defensive midfielder Gokhan Inler coming in for individual praise:
Following the pattern already set in the round of 16, the first half was tight, with neither team scoring in the first 45 minutes. Switzerland created the first big chance in the 28th minute, Xherdan Shaqiri working himself free on the right before pulling back for Granit Xhaka in the middle. Xhaka directed his first-time shot on goal, but Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved.
One minute later, Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi scuffed a half-volley on target from a tight angle on the right. Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was well positioned, though, and saved easily.
Switzerland had another good chance in the 39th minute after Fabian Schar passed to Josip Drmic in acres of space behind Argentina's defence. With Romero hesitating to come off his line, Drmic tried to chip the goalkeeper, but his soft shot fluttered harmlessly into Romero's hands.
Argentina began to ratchet up the pressure in the second half, with Marcos Rojo stinging Benaglio's palms with a shot from a tight angle on the left in the 59th minute.
Three minutes later, Benaglio tipped Gonzalo Higuain's looping header over the bar, and in the 67th minute Messi finally registered his first shot—a dipping volley that fizzed just over.
Argentina introduced Rodrigo Palacio for Lavezzi with 16 minutes left in regular time, and the substitution nearly paid off quickly. In the 75th minute, Messi picked out the Inter Milan man with a cross into the centre of the box, but Palacio sent his free header off target.
The South Americans were looking truly dangerous, and Messi came close again three minutes later, sidestepping defenders before shooting low at the near post. Benaglio saved again, but the ball squirmed free before Switzerland hacked clear desperately.
Still scoreless after 90 minutes, the match went into extra time. The first chance of the added period fell to Argentina, Benaglio saving Palacio's header in the 94th minute. Then, in the 109th minute, the Swiss goalkeeper tipped over Di Maria's bullet shot from the edge of the box.
But for all of Benaglio's heroics, Messi and Argentina wouldn't be denied for much longer. Breaking quickly following a turnover in midfield, Messi tore through the Swiss defence before laying off for Di Maria on the right. With his first touch, Di Maria calmly slotted in at the far post to finally break the deadlock.
Switzerland weren't quite finished, though. In the closing minutes, Dzemaili rose highest to direct a header off the foot of the left-hand post. The ball then rebounded back to Dzemaili, but the ball bounced off him before he could react and trickled just wide of the same post.
Improbably, there was one more chance for the Swiss in the fifth minute of extra time, but Shaqiri's free-kick from just outside the box slammed off the Argentina wall to seal the South Americans' win.
|Argentina Player Ratings|
|Angel Di Maria||7||6||7|
|Rodrigo Palacio (for Lavezzi, 74')||N/A||5||5|
|Jose Basanta (for Rojo, 105')||N/A||N/A||6|
|Lucas Biglia (for Fernando Gago, 106')||N/A||N/A||6|
|Switzerland Player Ratings|
|Gelson Fernandes (for Xhaka, 66')||N/A||6||5|
|Haris Seferovic (for Drmic, 82')||N/A||6||5|
|Blerim Dzemaili (for Mehmedi, 113')||N/A||N/A||5|
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld confirmed his retirement following his side's loss, as noted by multiple journalists:
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella gave credit to Switzerland, telling reporters (h/t Football Italia):
Luckily we were able to win the game in extra time. The first half Switzerland were on top, then it was us. It was a strange game. Now we have to rest up and prepare for the next game.
Goalscorer Angel Di Maria said Argentina deserved to win, telling reporters (h/t Football Italia):
We gave everything out there. We left our heart and soul on the pitch. We were always in the game and we never gave up for a minute.
I think because of that we deserved to win. I thought we had a lot of chances and we just made one mistake, which forced our goalkeeper into a save.