Sao Paulo, July 1 (PTI): Pre-tournament favourites Argentine rode on Angel Di Maria’s late extra-time goal to eke out a hard-fought 1-0 win over Switzerland and progress to the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup at the Arena Corinthians here today.
He didn’t score today but four-time world footballer of the year and skipper Lionel Messi set up Di Maria for the only goal of the match deep into extra-time after both the teams failed to break the deadlock in regulation 90 minutes.
As expected Argentina controlled the lions share of possession in the match but their strikers failed breach the stubborn Swiss defence.
The game plan for the Swiss was to mark Messi closely and create chance in counter-attack. They managed to do that for most part of the game before the Argentine skipper came up with a brilliant run to set it up for Di Maria who made no mistake in finding the back of the net with a left-footer in the 118th minute.
A goalless draw seemed inevitable until Messi produces one of his patented dribbles to set up Di Maria, who duly booked a quarterfinal berth for the La Albiceleste against either USA or Belgium in Brasilia on Saturday.
After the change of ends it was all Argentina as they exerted relentless pressure on the Swiss defence with persistent attacks.
Marcos Rojo broke into the left of the Swiss penalty area but fired straight at Benaglio before Gonzalo Higuain’s close-range header was acrobatically tipped over by the Swiss goalie.
Rodrigo Palacio, who came in for Ezequiel Lavezzi with just 16 minutes remaining, was straight in action as he 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 fire a low drive, which Benaglio did well to first keep out and then jump on amid flying boots.
The game was heading for a penalty shoot-out, until Messi produced one of his mesmerising dribbles and teed up Di Maria, whose first-time strike curled around the arm of the diving Benaglio into the bottom corner.
A minute later, the Swiss almost equalised as Blerim Dzemali’s header struck the post and then hit in rebound before rolling wide.
Switzerland earned a free kick just outside the Argentine circle in the last minute of additional time but Shaqiri’s shot was blocked by the wall.
Earlier, it took 15 minutes for Argentina to get a shot at Switzerland goal but Lionel Messi’s shot was comfortably gathered by the Swiss keeper.
Angel Di Maria then won a free-kick for the Argentines in the 25th minute after being fouled by Admir Mehmedi but Messi’s ball into the area was headed well over by Gozalo Higuain.
After sitting back for most part of the first half, Switzerland had the best chance to break the deadlock in the 29th minute when Granit Xhaka forced Argentina keeper Sergio Romero to make a fine save with a crisply-struck shot before Stephan Lichtsteiner’s effort is kept out.
Argentina responded quickly from a break but Higuain’s tame shot was easily gathered by in front of Swiss goal.
Ezequiel Garay then narrowly failed to connect a corner by Angel Di Maria to give Argentine the lead.
Just five minutes from half time Switzerland missed a great chance when Xherdan Shaqiri found Josip Drmic unmarked with a defence-splitting pass by the later’s effort to chip in to the goal was easily pounced by an advancing Argentine keeper Sergio Romero.