ANGEL DI MARIA scored deep into extra time to give Argentina a 1-0 win over a heartbroken Switzerland and a spot in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Scorer: Argentina - Di Maria (118)
With a penalty shoot-out looming, Lionel Messi made a surging run toward the Swiss area in the 118th minute and laid the ball off to Di Maria on the right. The winger guided a left-foot shot past diving goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, prompting wild celebrations on the Argentine bench. Swiss substitute Blerim Dzemaili almost equalised right before the end but his header hit the post, and the rebound bounced off his knee and wide of the goal.
The result at Sao Paulo’s Itaquerao Stadium continued Argentina’s record of scraping by with narrow wins at this World Cup.
Di Maria said the Argentines knew from the start that there was a good chance that the game would go into extra time, like three of the six previous second-round matches.
“We know that this could happen to us, but we gave our souls out there on the pitch, we fought with our lives for each ball and we ended up as the winners,” Di Maria said.
It was a dramatic ending to what had been a tight match, with Argentina struggling to break through Switzerland’s disciplined defence.
Granit Xhaka and Josip Drmic had clear chances to put Switzerland ahead in the first half, but after that the Swiss mostly focused on repelling Argentina’s attacks and closing down space for Messi. “We made life very tough on them,” Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said. “They managed to keep their cool. It shows Argentina have a good team.”
Hitzfeld, whose brother died at age 81 on the eve of the match, said that the match was his last as a football coach. “It was a great honour working for Switzerland. I’m therefore proud to say goodbye to Switzerland with heart full of emotions,” he said.
Though Argentina dominated possession from the start, it was Switzerland that had the best chances in the slow-paced first half. Xherdan Shaqiri cut in from the left in the 28th minute and found Granit Xhaka in the middle of the penalty area, but Sergio Romero stopped Xhaka’s shot with his left foot.
Alone with Romero, striker Josip Drmic wasted a chance to score ten minutes later with a botched attempt to chip over the Argentina goalkeeper.
Argentina’s attack improved after the break when full-back Marcos Rojo launched raids down the left flank, feeding crosses to Argentine forwards. Just after the half-hour mark Gonzalo Higuain finally got an attempt on target as he connected with Rojo’s cross, forcing Benaglio to a fingertip save. In the 78th minute, Messi tested Benaglio again as he dribbled into the area and struck a low shot that the Swiss goalkeeper stopped at his right post.
Benaglio kept Switzerland in the game when got a hand on Di Maria’s shot in 109th minute, but had no chance with the winner. Second-half substitute Rodrigo Palacio won the ball in midfield and fed Messi, who dribbled down the middle in trademark fashion, escaping a challenge from Swiss defender Fabian Schaer before poking the ball to Di Maria.
Unmarked, the Real Madrid player beat Benaglio with his 10th goal in Argentina’s colours. “It was a match that we deserved to win,” said Sabella, the Argentina coach. “The first half was very even. They had two clear chances and after that the match was ours.”
Argentina: Romero; Garay, Zabaleta, Rojo (Basanta), Fernandez; Gago (Biglia), Di Maria, Mascherano; Lavezzi (Palacio), Higuain, Messi. Subs not used: Campagnaro, Perez, Rodriguez, Orion, Fernandez, Demichelis, Alvarez, Aguero, Andujar.
Switzerland: Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Rodriguez, Djourou, Schaer; Inler, Xhaka (Fernandes), Shaqiri, Behrami; Mehmedi (Dzemaili), Drmic (Seferovic). Subs not used: Ziegler, Senderos, von Bergen, Lang, Barnetta, Sommer, Stocker, Gavranovic, Buerki