Deep into extra time, Argentina’s World Cup dream looked to be in serious danger. They’d created very little against a cohesive Switzerland outfit, and the lottery of a penalty shootout loomed large. But with three minutes remaining in extra time, a flash of inspiration saw the Albiceleste through to the quarter-finals.
Alejandro Sabella’s side will be delighted to progress to the next round, but there are clearly some big problems within this first XI, problems that have reared their heads throughout the tournament. It meant that, once again, it was left to strong individual performances to help get them out of a difficult predicament.
Here are three men who stood up for the Argentinean cause with distinction when they looked in danger of dropping out of the tournament.
Much is made of Argentina’s offensive talents, but when a team goes forward with such vociferousness, it puts a huge amount of pressure on the team's defence and midfield. The man that holds things together for Argentina at the base of their midfield is Javier Mascherano, and he had a wonderful game for the South Americans.
His defensive industry and lateral forays across the pitch were unyielding throughout the 120 minutes, as the Barcelona man really lead by example for his team.
During his time at Camp Nou, Mascherano has developed his work with the ball, but he was tasked with being a deep-lying playmaker for this Argentina team, something he looked a little uncomfortable with, and something that Spanish football expert Ben Hayward found peculiar:
Mascherano isn't good enough technically to be a midfielder at Barça, yet he's Argentina's playmaker from deep. Therein lies a problem. #ARG— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) July 1, 2014
Nonetheless, his defensive work in this clash was impeccable, and if Argentina are going to continue to attack in this tournament with such freedom, then he’ll have to maintain those high standards. Sabella must find more technically adept players to sit next to him in midfield and dictate, though.
Angel Di Maria
He was not at his sparkling best by any means, but the Real Madrid midfielder popped up with a vital goal for his team when penalties were looking increasingly inevitable. He calmly slotted home after Lionel Messi’s layoff, and he was rewarded for his unshakable work-rate throughout the contest.
You could argue he was lucky not to be hauled off before he scored the winner, as he was extremely profligate in possession, as noted here by former England international Gary Lineker:
In the first 70 minutes, Di Maria has lost possession 28 times. That has to be some sort of record.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 1, 2014
You have to give credit to Di Maria though, for he never failed to shirk responsibility. He always wanted the ball, he was always willing to try different things and, eventually, that paid off for him.
But having been the star man in the Champions League final for Real Madrid, Di Maria stepped up at a vital time for his team once again. Looking ahead, Sabella will be hoping that Di Maria can marry some of his admirable endeavour with a little more composure on the ball.
The Madrid man has proven throughout this campaign that he’s a class act, and, after netting the crucial goal here, expect a much more confident performance in the quarter-finals.
Once again, the diminutive genius made a vital contribution for his country as they go in search of their third World Cup triumph. In the 117th minute, he picked the ball up, rode a tackle and played Di Maria in superbly, that despite being noticeably exhausted for long spells of extra time.
Ezequiel Lavezzi, Messi and Di Maria posted a picture of their celebrations online, as noted here by 101 Great Goals:
Throughout this contest, Messi always looked a genuine threat despite his teammates offering little against a diligent Swiss outfit. He drifted by players with typically nonchalant elegance and tested the Swiss keeper with a host of stinging shots. But it was his burst through the middle and subsequent pass that was the moment of genuine quality in the game.
Messi won FIFA’s official man of the match award for Argentina, his fourth in as many World Cup matches at this tournament, per Football_Tweet:
The Barcelona man continues to drag his team over the line in this competition, and Argentina are three games away from sampling World Cup glory in the backyard of their biggest rivals. If they’re going to do that, you suspect Messi might need to add another three man of the match awards to his 2014 World Cup collection.