Lionel Messi has admitted he feared his Argentina side's World Cup run was in danger of ending before he created Angel Di Maria's last-gasp extra-time winner against the Swiss on Tuesday.
The last-16 encounter in Sao Paulo was locked at 0-0 for 118 minutes, and it looked to be heading toward penalties before Messi created some space and fed Di Maria on the right to smash home for the win.
The Barcelona star had been kept under wraps for most of the game by Switzerland and admitted to fearing the worst as penalties looked inevitable, per Martin Lipton in the Mirror:
We didn’t want it to go to penalties. We suffered, suffered and suffered, all of us. We started to think it wasn’t going to happen. But at the end we had luck on our side and now we have to take advantage and move on.
Argentina go through to the quarter-finals to face a strong-looking Belgian side, but the Swiss must now head home. Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld confirmed after the game that his managerial career has now come to an end.
The 65-year-old German will now retire and was seen consoling his players on the pitch after the game. He called to mind the post-match scene of the 1999 Champions League final, when Manchester United's two late goals spelt defeat for his Bayern Munich side, per Sky Sports:
This also happened in the Champions League final. I had to go onto the pitch after to console the players after because they did something great for themselves, the team and entire country.
It was indeed a fine defensive performance from the Swiss team, who kept Argentina's formidable attacking unit quiet until the dying minutes of extra time, but eventually Alejandro Sabella's side's quality showed through—only just.
The reality for Argentina is that they have not yet been good enough in this World Cup to call themselves prospective champions. Four goals from Messi in the group stages and his fine assist on Tuesday have effectively been the difference between winning and losing.
Heading into the quarter-finals, they will need to improve dramatically, as they by no means look to be an unbeatable side, per The New York Times' Stefan Bienkowski:
In the last eight, they face a Belgian side who also struggled in their last-16 game against the USA but who still put in a better performance than Argentina's poor showing against the Swiss.
However, with Messi involved—as he showed on Tuesday—he only needs one moment to make the difference. The close call against Switzerland will no doubt spur him and his side on ahead of Saturday's quarter-final match.