Story of the game
Switzerland’s game plan was clearly to stay compact and solid, trying their hardest to minimise the space available for Argentina in attacking areas of the pitch. Di Maria looked dangerous when breaking towards the left wing and on several occasions, Lichsteiner and others had to resort to rather blatant drags of the shirt to stop his runs.
After a slow start to the match, it was the underdogs Switezerland who had the first serious opportunity of the match. Argentina fell asleep at a corner allowing the Swiss to take it short and create space for themselves. The ball was cut back from the by-line and found Granit Xhaka in space. His controlled right foot shot was hit through plenty of bodies, making the situation harder for Romero to deal with but he managed to deflect it away with his feet.
Ezequiel Lavezzi went on a mazy run down the left flank, beating a couple of men not once but twice, and did well to stay on his feet. Eventually, simply weight of numbers overcame the PSG flyer and with many men committed upfield, Switzerland saw the chance to counter-attack. Shaqiri released Drmic early into space as the forward had sprung the offside trap well. An indecisive Romero advanced towards Drmic before retreating but a poor attempt at a chip left the Argentinian with the simple task of gathering the ball.
Early on in the second half, Sergio Romero had a moment to forget from a free-kick. Shaqiri stepped up from the right channel and rather than produce the expected cross, he instead went for the near post with a shot. Romero was well positioned and easily got behind the shot but fumbled it horribly and nearly knocked it behind for a corner. Shortly afterwards, Shaqiri was pivotal again as he made a promising break down the left wing. He reached the by-line and was able to cut the ball back for Drmic who had pulled away into space. However when Drmic received the pass, the angle immediately began to close on him and he could only blaze wildly over.
A miscued cross by Marcos Rojo provided Argentina’s latest chance when neat interplay on the left edge of the penalty area created some space for the full back to run into. Clearly aiming for the support in the centre, Rojo scuffed the cross and nearly took Benaglio by surprise but the experienced goalkeeper pulled off a good save.
Just after the hour mark, a more purposeful ball from Rojo nearly opened the scoring as Argentina continued to grow much more into the game and exert a dominance. A pacey delivery was glanced goal-ward by Gonzalo Higuain who had managed to nick in front of his marker. Using the speed of the cross itself, the Napoli forward forced Benaglio into a smart tip over his own cross bar.
In the 77th minute, a piece of tidy footwork by Messi had Swiss hearts racing. The Barcelona magician drove at the heart of the opposition defence, quickly shifted the ball to make space for a left foot strike, and hit a low drive with some pace that went through the legs of the facing defenders. Benaglio was forced into a good save but only deflected it away and the ensuing ruckus nearly resulted in the ball being rammed home but it was the keeper himself who took a battering.
Fabian Schär had a late headed chance in injury time. Fernandez was able to apply just enough pressure on his opposing centre-half and so he got a little too much on the header to send it over the bar, and the game into extra time.
The first half of the period of extra time was a touch of a non-event, with both sides incapable of doing more other than trading gentle jabs.
3 minutes into the second half of extra time, Di Maria hit a pile-driver from the right side which Benaglio saved comfortably, with a little added flamboyance for the watching millions.
It was inevitable given his abysmal performance that it would be Angel Di Maria to hit the winning goal. Lionel Messi found a surge of energy from deep within himself to burst away from the Swiss defence. He found Real Madrid’s Di Maria in space who put his consistently poor display behind him to slot the ball beyond Benaglio.
The Swiss came alive now that they were heading out of the tournament and only a minute later, they had a golden chance to send the game to penalties. An in-swinging cross from the right by Shaqiri was inch perfect for Dzemaili who was handed a free header from only 3 yards out. It smacked the base of the post and the rebound had hit him and gone wide before he knew anything about it.
With only a minute or two remaining of the game, the South Americans were able to hold out against a Swiss onslaught to secure their place in the quarter finals against the winners of Belgium vs USA.
Argentina: Romero, Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Rojo (Basanta – 105’), Mascherano, Gago (Biglia – 105’), Di Maria, Lavezzi (Palacio – 74’), Messi (capt), Higuain.
1. Sergio Romero – 5. Was only infrequently tested but he certainly didn’t look confident when he was put under pressure. Argentina will have to hope that this is a blip rather than a suggestion of things to come.
4. Pablo Zabaleta – 6. Energetic and tough tackling, an absolutely typical performance that we are used to seeing at Man City.
17. Federico Fernandez – 6. Started off fairly shakily but grew into the game well and eventually started to make some important interventions.
2. Ezequiel Garay – 6. Solid as a rock throughout but he was a touch rash from time to time. Perhaps could have done better in the opposition box with a couple of chances to score.
16. Marcos Rojo – 6. Some good defensive challenges and clearing headers, he also chased back well. However, his attacking impetus was not up to much for the entire game.
14. Javier Mascherano – 7. Tried incredibly hard and must have covered more ground than any other player. He broke up play well and did commit the odd clever foul. If his final ball had been a little better then he may well have picked up a couple of assists.
5. Fernando Gago – 5. Too similar in position and style to Mascherano but didn’t play with the same energy. It seemed as though he was often unnecessary to Argentinian play and could slow down their progression up the pitch.
7. Angel Di Maria – 5. Far too inefficient on the ball and was frankly terrible with regard to his decision making. He would cut in and repeatedly hit the first man with a cross, though his performance was summed up when he attempted an extravagant cross but only hit it out of play. The only moment of quality in the entire match was his exceptionally calm finish to win the game deep into extra time.
22. Ezequiel Lavezzi – 6. Worked hard and managed to find space across the attacking areas. He produced a couple of dazzling runs while also showing strength but as always seems to be the case, he tired midway through the second period.
10. Lionel Messi – 7. In flashes, he was consistently Argentina’s best player by some distance. The only man who ever looked like creating danger, it was fitting that he was the architect of Di Maria’s winner.
9. Gonzalo Higuain – 5. Looked a little immobile and although he tried to pick up space, he never really escaped the clutches of Switzerland’s defence. Argentina will need more from him if they wish to progress further.
18. Rodrigo Palacio – 6. Certainly made a difference immediately after coming on and added a new dynamic to Argentina’s front line.
23. José Maria Basanta – 5. Caught out a couple of times and put in a few challenges that were unnecessarily robust.
6. Lucas Biglia – N/A.
1. Diego Benaglio – 6. Steady under pressure and alive to the danger on more than one occasion. Made a couple of good saves and was not really at fault for the Argentinian winner.
2. Stephan Lichsteiner – 6. Dealt well with Di Maria when he broke to the left wing and when the opportunity arose, he also managed to get forward to cause Rojo some concern.
20. Johan Djourou – 5. Looked shaky on several occasions and always seemed to have a mistake in him.
22. Fabian Schär – 6. A good performance by such a young man with little experience and certainly looked more solid than his central defensive partner.
13. Ricardo Rodriguez – 7. Looked just as good attacking as he did defending and some of his deliveries were very dangerous.
11. Valon Behrami – 7. Demonstrated absolutely boundless energy and never showed a lack of desire to track a fast Argentine attack. Even when Benaglio had gone up-field at the very end, Behrami was the one chasing back towards his own goal to guard against conceding.
8. Gokhan Inler – 7. Formed a good partnership with Behrami and never stopped working. The Argentine midfield did begin to get the better of him by the end.
10. Granit Xhaka – 6. Put in some hard work and showed all too infrequent flashes of quality. The effort took its toll quite quickly and he tired in the second half.
23. Xherdan Shaqiri – 8. Looked dangerous for the whole game and Argentina couldn’t quite work out the best way to counter his agility and quick feet.
18. Admir Mehmedi – 7. Worked hard and combined well with Xherdan Shaqiri to use their respective trickery and did unlock the defensive door on occasion.
19. Josip Drmic – 6. Made life difficult for Argentinian defenders but was feeding off scraps for the duration of his performance.
16. Gelson Fernandes – 6. Added legs to Switzerland’s midfield and initially helped to stifle a period of Argentinian dominance.
9. Haris Seferovic – 5. Ran hard when he came on and put himself about in an effort to occupy Garay and Fernandez. One good chance to score came and went.
15. Blerim Dzemaili – 5. He was lively and caused a problem for Argentina, however he spurned his greatest chance at national glory.
Man of the match
Xherdan Shaqiri may have found himself on the losing side by the end of the game, but it was certainly not for want of trying. He used his quick feet, rapid acceleration, and low centre of gravity to great effect to throw off Argentinian defenders. The confidence that his hat-trick against Honduras must have given him was on display here and no position was tight enough to completely restrain the Bayern Munich flyer. It has been these past 2 games that have really shown why his signature is in such demand.