Argentina vs. Switzerland: Another Moment of Messi Magic Decides the Match

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJuly 1, 2014

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates with teammates defeating Switzerland 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Argentina and Switzerland at Arena de Sao Paulo on July 1, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Argentina booked their place in the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter-finals thanks to a last-gasp Angel Di Maria strike in extra time.

A drab game looked certain to go to penalties after a 117-minute stalemate, but Lionel Messi linked past one last challenge to feed his colleague on the right to score.

Blerim Dzemaili hit the post in the final minute of the game.


Formations and XIs


Argentina played a surprisingly flat 4-4-2 formation with Messi drifting off the forward line. Ezequiel Lavezzi started at right midfield and Di Maria left.

Switzerland employed their usual 4-2-3-1 with Xherdan Shaqiri in the No. 10 role, Granit Xhaka right and Fabian Schar continuing in defence.


Stopping Messi?

"How to stop Lionel Messi? We will show you tomorrow how we do it," Ottmar Hitzfield told reporters ahead of the game, per The Associated Press (h/t The Washington Post).

Bold words from the manager who shipped five against Karim Benzema's France, and his bullish statement created heavy intrigue surrounding exactly what his plan was.

Switzerland fell into a flat 4-4-1-1/4-5-1 off the ball and pinned their wide midfielders all the way back so they were just five metres or so ahead of the full-backs.

Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami sandwiched Messi whenever he dropped into midfield to receive the ball, the flanks were sewn up with two players each side and the defensive line allowed themselves not to be distracted by decoy runs.

The Swiss midfield was also significantly more aggressive in its pressing than we've seen in the tournament so far, trying to cut off the service into the Argentine forward line by harassing Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano.

Wide overloads were impossible, Switzerland's left was impenetrable due to Ricardo Rodriguez's excellence and Inler was winning the muscular battle in the central zones.

Messi touched the ball three times in the first 11 minutes and received just 23 passes in the first half. Argentina amassed 63 percent of possession during that time, per, and complete 209 total passes.

The plan was working.


Not Sticking

At the other end of the pitch, Switzerland struggled to string together many meaningful chances or promising spells on the ball.

Shaqiri was largely responsible for any semblance of pressure thanks to his ability to hold onto the ball and win set pieces for his side. Josip Drmic was useless as a hold-up mechanism, and the one chance he got on goal—a gilt-edged one-on-one—he fluffed in spectacular style.

Switzerland struggled in terms of chance creation.
Switzerland struggled in terms of chance

The ball simply wouldn't stick up front for the Swiss, with either Inler losing it on ambitious dribbles or Drmic being dispossessed. Stephan Lichtsteiner was a non-entity in attack and Rodriguez remained reluctant to surge forward.



Alejandro Sabella did his best to find a way around the Swiss wall, moving his peripherals around and using his attacking substitutes.

Di Maria moved over to the right to try and beat Rodriguez in a way Lavezzi could not, but he soon settled back in on the left after failing, too.

Marcos Rojo was shoved forward to try and stretch the other side of the defence, but except for a few crosses that ended up looking like shots, he was also ineffectual.

When Rodrigo Palacio came on and partnered Gonzalo Higuain, they largely got in each others' way, stood on each others' toes and occupied the same space.

All the while, Hitzfeld was making defensive changes to quell Sabella's efforts, with Gelson Fernandes coming in on the right to replace Xhaka's tracking and running (yellow carded).

It was one moment that settled the game, as Messi latched onto a high turnover in midfield, skipped a challenge and played a perfectly weighted ball into Di Maria's path.



Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

By the end of extra time, Di Maria had lost the ball 51 times in total (per BBC live TV), but it was his shot that sealed the match in Argentina's favour.

It was a game dictated by defensive midfielders, not attacks, as play became very sloppy and turnovers in the middle third became common.

Mascherano (four), Gago (five), Inler (five) and Behrami (six) all reigned supreme in the tackles department, per; no playmaker could keep hold of it for long.

If Argentina put in a similar showing in their quarter-final, it's unlikely they'll win, as while the Swiss lacked the power up front to punish them, USA and Belgium do not.

"Luckily we were able to win the game in extra time,” Sabella admitted post-match (h/t Football Italia). "The first half Switzerland were on top, then it was us. It was a strange game."

Switzerland hit the post in the final minute and came desperately close to forcing penalties, but the history books will show a narrow loss to a Messi-inspired Argentina side after 120 grueling minutes.

Not the worst note for Hitzfeld to go out on.