Argentina vs Switzerland match report World Cup 2014: Angel di Maria leaves it late to breach the Swiss red wall
Argentina 1 Switzerland 0 (aet): Lionel Messi lays on pass for winner
Still the tournament waits for someone to seize it and play with a style and sense of entitlement which befits this great land of football. Switzerland are not the world’s sixth best nation – despite what the rankings say. Only 11 days have passed since they were ground into the Salvador turf – destroyed 5-2 by a French side who might have scored more. The delirious Brazilian chants of ole which rang out in extra time here were an ironic Brazilian commentary on an old enemy’s failure to find any way through. Yet for over 117 minutes yesterday, precise Swiss organisation was beyond Argentina.
When the game had reached the half way point of extra time, some of the South American players had their head in hands, as if to say ‘There’s no way through.’ That was before Lionel Messi – their only force - forged into the box one last time and found Angel di Maria who scored, left-footed. Even then, in the last minute of extra time, Swiss substitute Blerim Dzemaili missed the chance of his lifetime. “Suffering? Yes there was more suffering for us in that moment,” Messi said last night after collecting his fourth man of the match award in as many games at this tournament. They would certainly have agreed with that in Argentina.
There is certainly a presence about this exuberant Argentinian roadshow with its supporting cast of thousands, singing of how they’ll win in Brazil’s back yard. The exhilaration of the late win will help that momentum. But the question is whether they really can go all the way to the Maracana whilst dependent on one man – because it is getting late to assume they can do it any other way. Diego Maradona could carry a team single-handed. Messi needs others to join in with his industry.
There was a questionable interpretation of these events from coach Alex Sabello. “I usually criticise myself sometimes before you but today the team played a wonderful match, he said. “We were clearly superior in the second half. We played a wonderful match against a very hard team.” But his team belong to the prevailing narrative of this World Cup about the troubles of the elite teams. Sabella also insisted that in football “you don’t just win because of winning - you need a good strategy” Argentina still seem to be looking for something more meaningful than ‘give to Messi.’
They were disconnected; like a school team with a solitary good player, not terribly minded to try much out without him, and even his own flourishes were intermittent for a time: a drop of the shoulder to snake between his full back, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Gokhan Inler, which Rodriquez put a stop to. Pace is not a component of the Messi game. He began on the right hand side of a midfield line of four though the formation was an insignificance as he flitted along the front line, looking for a space to forge a track into or for someone else to find.
The Swiss were not ambitious. “If we had attacked we would have conceded even more goals than against France,” said their German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. But they found confidence. They look like a one-star school team too – he’s Xherdan Shaqiri – and if they had only been blessed with the ability to finishes what they started then what a story this could have been. The man touched on the shoulder by history was Josip Drmic, sent hurtling free into the left hand channel of the penalty area by Shaqiri on 38 minutes. With the Argentinians about to join him in numbers, it had to be a first time finish but his lob reached the Sergio Romer, the goalkeeper, at waist height. “This is football. These emotions you only have in football. That’s why we love it,” Hitzfeld said at the end.
The Swiss owed much to the 65-year-old, who confirmed last night that this match brings the curtain down on a 31-year managerial career, the last six years at the Swiss helm. The timing of his 82-year-old brother Winfried’s death, on the eve of the match was desperate. “It’s hard for us to talk about football today,” his press secretary said at the end.
The prospect of his players delivering a surprise lessened as the sun dropped and shadows lengthened, though Argentina still laboured to find any way around a resolute wall of red. They had 61% possession but lacked a finishing touch.
There were chances for the lesser mortals, with two of Gonzalo Higuain’s arriving around the hour mark: a shot touched over by Diego Benaglio and a header planted straight at him. But by the end of normal time, it was a question of which route Messi might take to fashion something. He took down a ball that he volleyed an inch over the bar. He forged a route into the left hand side of the box and fired a shot through his defender’s legs that Benaglio saved, low down and unconvincingly. He bisected two players on the left raced past a third in the box and, as the stadium held its breath, sought an outlet amid the wall of red which ushered the ball away. Even when Di Maria had broken through, Switzerland spurned an extraordinary last minute chance. Dzemaili headed a corner against the post and the rebound stuck his knee and squirmed wide.
“That was everything that can happen in the life of the coach,” Hitzfeld reflected. “It was an incredible reaction.” Pablo Zabaleta’s own reflection was that “every team in this World Cup seems to have to suffer in order to actually do something.” It would gratify Sabella if the pain now stopped.
Argentina (4-4-2) Romero; Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Rojo; Messi, Gago, Mascherano, Di Maria; Higuain, Lavezzi
Switzerland (4-2-3-1) Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Djourou, Schaer, Rodriguez; Behrami, Inler; Shaqiri, Xhaka, Mehmedi; Drmic
Referee: J. Erikson (Sweden)
Substitutes: Argentina Palacio for Lavezz (74), Basanta for Rojo (104), Biglia for Gago (105)
Switzerland Fernandes for Xhaka (64), Seferovic for Drmic (82), Dzemaili for Mehmedi (114)
Star man: Messi
Match rating: 7
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