In a dreary encounter, a lackluster performance from an Argentina team, that continues to disappoint, was uncovered as frantically over- dependent on their magical No. 10. With both teams failing to score till the 118th minute, the match seemed doomed for penalties before Lionel Messi fronted, like he has for most of his team’s campaign, a ruinous Argentina counter riding a couple of challenges and laying off a perfectly weighted ball for Di Maria to slot home the winner. Switzerland more than provided for a riposte to the best that Argentina could toss at them & were efficacious to an extent in keeping Messi at bay. Substitute Blerim Dzemaili hit the woodwork with a header in the final moments, setting up an overwrought finale before Argentina held on to a 1-0 victory to advance to the QFs of the World Cup.
Formations & Line-ups
Argentina (4-3-3): Romero, Federico Fernandez, Zabaleta, Garay, Rojo (Basanta 105’), Gago (Biglia 105’), Mascherano, Di Maria, Higuain, Messi, Lavezzi (Palacio 74’).
Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Schar, Djourou, Rodriguez, Inler, Behrami, Xhaka (Fernandes 66’), Shaqiri, Mehmedi (Dzemaili 113’), Drmic (Seferovic 82’).
Goals: Di Maria 118’.
Both managers had deployed tactical masterworks that permitted the main players to keep the attacking tempo. They had unremitting engines in Angel Di Maria and Inler, making probing runs, while Xherdan Shaqiri and Lionel Messi were playing in tailored roles that allowed them to roam about and initiate attacks. Argentina sought to augment the impact of Lionel Messi by relocating him into the centre while Lavezzi attacked in the box as an extra pressure man, and Di Maria covered the centre and drifted wide to cover.
As the game progressed, Rojo and Zabaleta were compelled to fall back by Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichsteiner. Shaqiri was feeding off bolstering runs from Inler, and transforming them into plays. Although he began on the right, he drifted left and centre while Xhaka covered his flank. In this spontaneous flowing style, the Swiss forced Argentina out of attack with their bursting fullbacks. Mehmedi had to fall back occasionally to cover up for Rodriguez at left back.
Post half time, Sabella tweaked his tactics a little for the Swiss; a slight variation on the 4-3-3 formation, saw Messi and Co. switch to a more orthodox 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 (altering with Messi’s position) with Higuain or Lavezzi upfront, interchanging with Messi.
Swiss kept Messi silent in the first half
“How to stop Messi? We’ll show you tomorrow how we do it”
– Ottmar Hitzefeld.
In midfield, Behrami and Inler had clogged the space where Messi flourishes most – cutting onto his left foot in central areas. Whenever he had possession of the ball, the Swiss outnumbered him with three or four players (something Messi is quite used to though), closing in and salvaging possession in midfield. He struggled to break into the box and couldn’t get a single shot on target in the first half.
The second half though, saw a stark variation in his performance due to the change in formation. He saw more of the ball, linked up well with the players in front of him and started getting into more offensive positions.
Shaqiri finding pockets
It was no revelation that the Swiss were happy to sit back, defend and allow their opponents come at them. With Inler surging forward from the pivot role, and the Argentinians failing to engender anything in midfield, most of the Swiss’ attacks came on the counter with Shaqiri finding gaps, chiefly in the wider areas with both Argentine full backs making forward runs. He, in particular thrived on the attention and sparked into life in the first half and was his team’s best player. Hitzefeld employed the Bayern playmaker to play just behind Drmic, but lack of possession & creative play from his team-mates forced him to drop back and build up from midfield, keeping him well-involved in the attacking half.
Swiss defenders switch off
Angel Di Maria’s one touch finish at the end of an inch perfect Messi pass was a corollary of some really silly defending – something that the Swiss hadn’t done ever so well throughout the game. Even as Messi started the counter-attack outclassing his markers, Di Maria on the right found himself absolutely unmarked. The Swiss committed too many players trying to block Messi’s run and a possible delivery to Higuain or Palacio. This carved out adequate space for the Real Madrid winger on the right to put the ball into the back of the net, two minutes before a potential penalty shootout.
Key Player of the match
After a drab 90 minutes in a far from enthralling encounter, Argentina did come to life in extra time. Eventually, Di Maria got his goal – his first of a relatively mediocre tournament, given how pivotal he was in Real Madrid’s season. Di Maria has been a conspicuous figure, mainly noted for his wasteful play in key areas but always a willing runner ready to try things. After 11 shots, the Real Madrid star finally broke the deadlock. He alone had almost as many shots on goal as the entire Swiss team. As it proved, he was the match-winner. Additionally, Lionel Messi’s performance, after the first 45 minutes gets an honourable mention here.
Where does this leave them?
Switzerland coach, Hitzfeld confirmed his retirement following his side’s loss. They did a brilliant job in the first half but could not adapt to Sabella’s change in tactics after the break. They forged chances, especially after Di Maria’s goal, itching for an equalizer and coming so close to getting one only to be denied by the post. It wasn’t to be their day.
While for Argentina, the Messi-ah delivered and the Angel answered. They are now to face Belgium on the 5th of July. Clearly, they do have enough problems of their own, with Lavezzi filling in for injured Aguero, Higuain failing to cause any threat up front, and the squad heavily reliant on one man to create and score. Sabella has his task cut out for him and so does his squad, for what should be an exciting matchup against Wilmots’ fledgling squad.