Last-gasp Di Maria saves Argentina, sinks Swiss
Angel Di Maria’s strike in the 11th hour of extra time sunk Switzerland and snatched Argentina a place in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals. A goalless draw seemed inevitable until, on 118 minutes, Lionel Messi produce one of his patented dribbles to set up the Real Madrid man, who duly booked La Albiceleste a trip to Brasilia.
Ottmar Hitzfeld set his charges up defending very deep and in numbers, and the tactic served to limit Argentina to nothing more than half-chances in the first half. Gonzalo Higuain headed over from a Messi free-kick, while goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was up to tame attempts from Ezequiel Lavezzi and Di Maria.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s influence began to flower as the half progressed, and just before the half-hour he carved out a big chance for the Swiss. The diminutive, solid-shouldered 22-year-old nutmegged his marker down the right, broke into the Argentinian area and cleverly cut it back to Granit Xhaka, whose low drive from eight yards was excellently repelled by the outstretched leg of Sergio Romero, who then saved Stephan Lichtsteiner’s follow-up.
Romero was nevertheless let firmly off the hook on 39 minutes. The 27-year-old curiously elected against vacating his box to clear a hopeful punt forward. Josip Drmic accepted his rival’s invitation, raced clean through on goal, but elected to try a chip when he had much simpler options, allowing Romero to make a straightforward catch.
The man who had the last opportunity of the first half had the maiden one of the second. Shaqiri tricked his way to the byline and passed it back for Drmic, whose strike curled aimlessly over.
That was the cue for Argentina to assume the ascendancy. Marcos Rojo broke into the left of the Swiss penalty area but fired straight at Benaglio, Higuain’s close-range header was acrobatically tipped over, and Messi cheated the ball into his own path on the edge of the box and unleashed a dipping volley which was just too high.
Rodrigo Palacio came on with 16 minutes remaining, and within seconds he headed a Messi cross wide from six yards out.
Swiftly, Messi gathered a poor clearance on the edge of the box, side-stepped his marker and fired a low drive, which Benaglio did well to first keep out and then jump on amid flying boots.
That sent the game into extra time, in which Di Maria’s fizzing strike brought a fine push-over from Benaglio.
The game was on the cusp of a penalty shoot-out, until Messi went on one of his mesmerising dribbles and teed up Di Maria, whose first-time strike curled around the arm of the diving Benaglio and into the bottom corner.
Play restarted on 119 minutes, but Switzerland almost equalised, with Blerim Dzemaili’s header coming back off the post, hitting him and rolling just wide. Shaqiri had the last chance, firing a free-kick into the wall as Argentina hung on.
They will now face the winners of Belgium-USA for a place in the semi-finals.