In a tournament which is seeing the lower teams really step up against the big guns, Argentina’s clash with Switzerland proved to be no different. Switzerland lost 1-0 to the South American team, but managed to take the opposition, which possesses one of the most quality attacks in the world at the moment, into the dying embers of the extra minutes.

One of the more dull matches of the tournament saw a very exciting finish as Di Maria’s goal was scored in the 118th minute, just moments away from the whistles taking the two teams into a penalty shootout.

In the stoppage time of the extra time, Switzerland midfielder Blermin Dzemaili thundered a header against the post from a cross; Switzerland came that close to taking the Lionel Messi led side to the penalty shootout. Ottmar Hitzfeld will unfortunately end his legendary managerial career on this note.

Argentina Raise Doubts As Potential World Champions

A 1-0 win against Switzerland only raises already present questions of why Argentina is not winning more convincingly. The team won against Bosnia 2-1, where one of the goals for the Latin American side was an own goal. The win against a low seeded Iran was probably the most unconvincing one there has been, as Argentina only got points because of some Messi-brilliance in the stoppage time. They won the match 1-0, but didn’t look like potential world champions, at all. The win against Nigeria was also not as compelling as it should have been as the South Americans got a winner through Marcos Rojo and went back with a 3-2 scoreline and the three points. However, it did make for a fantastic, evenly-contested match.

It was again Messi who rescued his team this time. It was he who set up di Maria’s goal; it was his drive and refusal to give up that eventually saved Argentina the blushes of a penalty shootout, and a possible unwarranted exit.

Argentina set about in a somewhat 4-2-3-1 formation and initially struggled to find space which was because of Switzerland’s brilliant organization defensively. In the second half, the South Americans started looking more comfortable as they started finding space in the tight Swiss defence. Lavezzi and Di María started leaving their flanks and foraging through the middle. The chances started coming steadily.

Argentina attempted 29 shots and got one goal in the 118th minute, which speaks two things – wasteful chances, brilliant defensive organization on part of the Swiss. Gonzalo Higuain was his side’s worst player on the field. He was hardly visible in the first half. In the second half, he started trying harder. Two headers were planted by him around the hour mark – the former requiring a great save by Diego Benaglio to tip over the bar, and the latter being driven straight at him, an attempt the Napoli striker wouldn’t be proud of.

Lavezzi regularly came up-front and tried to be the unlikely scorer. He attempted a couple of shots but looked highly ineffective and provided no sort of threat to Switzerland. Eventually he was substituted by Rodrigo Palacio who provided far more mobility in the game. He was also, however, guilty of a wasteful attempt as he failed to convert from a delicious scooped cross sent in by his captain.

Di Maria was also very ineffective for most parts of the game. The Real Madrid player was regarded as the second most important player for the Argentines but has not done anything menacing in the tournament so far. Capable of swapping positions, the player’s runs through the middle were undamaging. He completed 2 of the 12 he attempted – an embarrassing tally for any player but an unexpected one from him.

di Maria completed 2 of his attempted 12 crosses. (via Squawka)

di Maria completed 2 of his attempted 12 crosses.
(via Squawka)

A player of his caliber could not miss the chance Messi created for him for the goal, and at least he didn’t disappoint there. However, a lot has to be said about his perseverance – he kept running and trying to make things happen (even if they didn’t) and he refused to be complacent. Just for his persistence, the goal seemed like an apt reward.

Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago provided little drive or dynamism in the heart of the pitch and didn’t help their side create more pressure on the Europeans.

The defence of Argentina was not troubled much later on, with the battle mostly happening in the midfield, but initially, Argentina’s ability to recover the ball was not good. Switzerland could launch counter attacks in the first half, and the Argentinean defensive duo – Mascherano and Gago – were not able to deal with these easily. The defenders were also not fast in coping with these counters and this lack of speed and coverage at the back can prove to be a huge problem when they take on Belgium in the quarter final, a side with a deadlier attack.

The Big Question

How is it that the attack of Argentina is not doing more damage than this? When Portugal crashed out of the tournament embarrassingly, it was pointed out that Portugal is over-reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Argentina, au contraire, has a clinical striker who scored nine times as Argentina topped the South American section, with only Messi and Suarez netting more, in Higuain; a world-class versatile winger in Angel di Maria and a player who can be employed in various attacking positions, in Lavezzi. Add to that the talents of players who can chip in from the bench in the forms of Palacio, Perez and Rodriguez. For a team that possesses an attack of this quality, they are curiously reliant on just one man – Messi.

The question is now whether they really can go all the way to the Maracana while dependent on one man – because from the way things are panning out, there probably isn’t another way for Argentina.

Switzerland give in all they have

Shaqiri was Switzerland's most effective player offensively.

Shaqiri was Switzerland’s most effective player offensively.

The Swiss would certainly return home proud of their efforts. Even though Shaqiri was the centre of almost all of Switzerland’s attacks, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland are definitely reliant more on well-drilled teamwork, than on individual lustre. But it was still the Bayern Munich player who shone for the Swiss, in most stages. Nicknamed the ‘Alpine Messi’, it was Shaqiri who delivered his side’s best moments. He was the best player on the pitch in the first half and created numerous chances for his side. Unfortunately, if the Swiss had only been able to finish what they started, they would probably not be heading home just now. Two times Shaqiri set up Drmic, both times Drmic failed to capitalize. The first one was a beautiful diagonal ball from the deep that sent Drmic running towards goal with only goalkeeper Sergio Romero to beat. Shockingly, he decided to chip the standing goalkeeper. Romero gladly collected the ball, which he received at waist-height and Switzerland’s best chance was wasted.  But the Bayern Munich player’s influence wore-off towards the end of the match as Switzerland mostly dealt with Argentinean attack during the period.

Otmar Hitzfeld had hinted at a plan to keep Messi quiet in the game. He said, “How to stop Messi? We’ll show you tomorrow how we do it”. His plan worked well in the first half as Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler and Granit Xhaka – the midfielders – were entrusted with the responsibility of keeping Messi quiet. They were asked to cut the supply and they executed it perfectly for most parts of the game. They didn’t let Messi have a lot of space; when the Argentinian captain got the ball, he was surrounded by a pack of Red shirts. But after about sixty minutes, the plan was not able to come off. Containing the genius became more difficult and Messi started getting more space and began to exploit any loose gaps he found.

12 of the 29 shots attempted by Sabella’s side were blocked and the Swiss defence deserves much credit for it. Johan Djourou was terrific at the heart of the Swiss defence. He stood tall and did not panic when Messi, Di Maria and Lavezzi made advancing runs. He did not give away any cheap possession and his composure in front of the goal was commanding. Fabian Schär’s work was heavily cut out because of Djourou. The Swiss left back Ricardo Rodriguez also enjoyed a good day in the office – he was firm defensively, and made offensive surges. However, the 21 year old has to improve the offensive side of his game, but his performance deserves a lot of praise and the Swiss surely have a solid player for the future.

Switzerland almost managed to take the game to penalties which is immense credit to them but they might feel that they did a little bit of self-damage, as they were unsuccessful in eventually doing so. It was Swiss full back Stephan Lichtsteiner who initially lost possession in midfield, allowing Messi the opportunity to set up the Real Madrid winger for the winner (Lichtsteiner has admitted his fault in the goal). Minutes later, as the match was seconds away from the final whistle, Dzemaili hit the post with his header and squandered the rebound wide.

Switzerland have a lot of positives to take from the tournament, but they have a lot to work on as well – their counter attacks were slow, almost all of the chances were being created by one man and there was absolutely no finish – the majority of the shots were off target and the ones on the money were too easy for Romero. They were the lesser of the two sides in the end, but eventually would be proud of their effort.

Farewell Hitzfeld

One of the most successful managers, Hitzfeld bid farewell to the game. He has guided both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to victory in the Champions League and said emotionally that he felt “pride” at what Switzerland had achieved in the World Cup. ‘Der General’ leaves the game a hero, even though Switzerland couldn’t progress further.

Man of the Match: Diego Benaglio

Benaglio plays for German side Wolfsberg and showed exactly why he is rated so highly in Germany. He saved numerous shots from di Maria, Palacio, Higuain and Messi. After suffering one embarrassing defeat to France, where Benaglio and the Swiss defenders would have to share the blame, the 30 year old, with the help of his defence, made sure Argentina didn’t embarrass his side. He kept up his good work for most parts of the match and eventually there was nothing he could do to keep di Maria’s crackling goal out.