Argentina 1 Switzerland 0
Angel di Maria celebrates his late winner. Photo: Reuters
Sao Paulo: Argentina have scraped into a third successive World Cup quarter-finals appearance as Angel di Maria netted an extra-time winner against Switzerland just two minutes before the match was due to be decided on the dreaded penalty shootout.
It took 118 minutes of tense and frustrating football for Argentina to find a breakthrough but through the vision of Lionel Messi and the precision of di Maria, they kept their slender dream of a third World Cup title alive. Desperation, relief and ecstasy swept through the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo as a brave Switzerland were eventually broken down by Argentina who await either USA or Belgium in the quarter-final.
Argentina did little to silence the criticism directed at their defence but will find some solace after making their first statement that they are more than just ten men plus Messi.Though for the most part they lacked sufficient purpose, penetration and creativity in front of goal against a well-drilled Switzerland, one that had clearly learnt from their 5-2 drubbing by France. Yet again in a deep role, Messi was their go-to man but this time he showed his ability to create as well as finish.
Heartbreak for Switzerland: Fabian Schar left in tears. Photo: Getty Images
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|Players||Ángel Di María (118' mins)||Scorers||Scorers||Players|
Encouragingly, the nimble forward linked up well with the midfield as Argentina looked their most composed thus far In this tournament as they played their strongest opponent yet.
Though, for all their confidence on the ball, their defensive frailties showed little sign of healing. Only the reflexes of goalkeeper Sergio Romero denied the Swiss a goal against the run of play as Granit Xhaka fired from inside the box to force a fine save from Argentina's number one before the half hour mark.
Again after classy spells of possession, Argentina should have conceded due to their backline's inability to contain counter attacks and only a shocking blunder spared their blushes. Swiss winger Josip Drmic was released into acres of space six minutes before half-time to go one on one with Romero but misfired terribly in an attempted audacious chip gone embarrassingly wrong.
Lionel Messi had a quiet game but still created the winner. Photo: Reuters
The tone didn't change in the second hale as Argentina looked like a genuine challenger when in possession yet utterly frail when defending. Drmic had a chance to atone his blunder in the 50th minute after receiving a cut-back from Xherdan Shaqiri but this time fired over the bar in a more gallant attempt.
It proved the only respite from Argentina's domination of possession but the two-time champions struggled to cut clear chances. Their best came via the head of Higuain on the hour-mark before Messi skimmed the top of the crossbar with a half-volley minutes later.
As the game progressed so too did Argentina's firm grip on the contest and cracks in Switzerland's defence appeared, Messi being the main antagonist. A trademark darting run into the box followed by a fierce low drive forced Diego Benaglio to make his best save of the match.
Angel di Maria of Argentina scores the winner in the 118th minute. Photo: Getty Images
It proved the tipping point as Switzerland assumed the ascension and the normally boisterous Argentina fans were reduced to a nervous silence. From that point it became clear a result wouldn't be found within 90 minutes.
Chances were in vain and hope more than they were constructed as fatigue and panic crept into play. Switzerland built up a defensive wall seemingly as impassable as their alps and it seemed it would take Hannibal-esque effort to surpass it. Instead it required two of the worlds best players. Messi burst through the midfield to hone in on goal and as he drew the Swiss defence, he slipped a pass to di Maria. In front of 63,000 fans and more than a billion viewers, di Maria showed no sign of nerves as he calmly slotted the ball into the far corner to send the Argentine majority into raptures in turn shattering the hearts of Switzerland and their fans.