By: Peter Rutherford
Angel Di Maria scored deep into extra time to give Argentina a 1-0 win over Switzerland and seal the South Americans a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup on Tuesday.
After a tense 0-0 draw at 90 minutes and a scoreless first period of extra time, Lionel Messi broke quickly and released Di Maria, who swept the ball home before wheeling away in delight.
Blerim Dzemaili almost saved the Swiss when his header hit the post in the dying minutes but Argentina held on and now face a quarterfinal with either Belgium or the United States, who play later on Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t me, the heroes are 23 players and the technical staff. We gave our lives, our souls,” said Di Maria. “We always tried to play, we just made one mistake in the first half that allowed a one-on-one with (keeper Sergio) ‘Chiquito’ Romero. I think the victory is more than deserved for sure.”
Switzerland assistant coach Michel Pont added: “Football is brutal, brutal, brutal. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have enough strength at the end to get through extra time. That’s the way it is in soccer, one small mistake. We had a chance to get a goal before that… it’s totally brutal.”
Argentina had leaned heavily on Messi throughout the group stage, the number 10 scoring four of their six goals, and the forward was at the heart of their best work in the first half, prompting and prodding in front of the massed Swiss defence. But the opening goal was elusive.
Switzerland, who were looking to return to the quarterfinals for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1954, went closest to scoring in a tight first half when impish playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri released Josip Drmic through on goal.
The tall striker shaped to shoot but wasted the opportunity with an ill-advised chip and Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero gathered comfortably.
With the score tied at 0-0 at halftime, the game then opened up in the second period as Argentina began to grab the momentum, and their blue and white clad fans brought the Corinthians arena to life, chanting and bouncing in unison.
The warning signs were flashing for Switzerland when Gonzalo Higuain went close with a header before Messi drove into the box and forced Diego Benaglio into a great save.
However, despite camping out in the Swiss half for long sections of the second half Argentina could not make the breakthrough and the 90 minutes ended scoreless.
Argentina looked the stronger side in extra time when Swiss legs began to tire and, just when it looked like Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson would call for a penalty shootout, Di Maria curled the ball past Benaglio to seal the late triumph.