Argentina-Switzerland: 5 Observations
The match may not have ranked as a classic but it still delivered drama at the death as a disciplined Swiss side succumbed to a late, late Argentine effort from the otherwise disappointing Ángel di María.
The Swiss will be ruing what might have been after squandering a number of golden opportunities. Then again they were always running the risk of being punished for not capitalizing on their chances and perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Switzerland paid the price for their profligacy.
Argentina will be mightily relieved but it must be worrying for Alejandro Sabella that his team hasn’t been able to shift into top gear yet.
Swiss shackle the Argentines:
It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world but the Swiss set their stall out to stifle the Argentines.
They managed to shut down Lionel Messi and generally restricted the space of his teammates. Switzerland didn’t shy away from being physical and it helped disrupt the flow of the game. They gave away fouls to break things up and never let the Albiceleste settle into any kind of rhythm.
Their plan when they won the ball was to give it to Xherdan Shaqiri as quickly as possible and let him shoulder the creative burden. In all fairness he was comfortable with the responsibility appearing on the right and winning his side a fair number of free kicks. Shaqiri was at the heart of everything good that the Swiss created.
Swiss rue lost opportunities:
The key to executing a defensive game plan is to ensure that if any clear-cut chances are created they must be converted. The Swiss created two golden opportunities with Granit Xhaka firing straight at Sergio Romero in the 27th minute.
Josip Drmić had an even better chance to score sprinting through on goal before inexplicably attempting a lob when a regulation strike would have been better advised. Indeed goalkeeper Diego Benaglio bailed out his teammates making a number of important stops to keep the Argentines out as the South American side ramped up the pressure.
To be so wasteful against a side as dangerous as Argentina especially when the game plan was so defensive was a recipe for disaster and the Swiss would eventually go on to regret not converting any of their chances.
Argentina huff and puff:
The longer the game went on the more dangerous Argentina became. The Albiceleste seemed to respond to the physical nature of the Swiss approach. Argentina ramped up the pressure using the flanks to stretch the play and open up a compact Swiss side.
Javier Mascherano was particularly fired up and even the normally placid Lionel Messi didn’t take kindly to Valon Berhami’s attempt at a tackle.
In truth even though Argentina upped the tempo they didn’t create enough clear-cut chances to test Diego Benaglio. Lionel Messi in previous games managed to rescue his side with wonderful strikes. This time he struggled despite working extremely hard against a well organized Swiss defense and none of his teammates appeared to have the gumption to unlock a solidly drilled and disciplined Switzerland.
It looked like only a mistake or a piece of magic could rescue the Argentinians.
Di María Redeemed:
Overall, it was a disappointing game for Ángel di María. For most of the tournament he had been one of Argentina’s better performers alongside Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo and of course Lionel Messi. Di María lost the ball no fewer than 37 occasions in the opening 90 minutes.
Diego Benaglio was equal to a stinging drive. The Real Madrid man’s attempted ‘effort’ in the 112th minute was more at home on the rugby pitches of Argentina then it did in a game of football.
But such is the nature of football and this World Cup there was always going to be a twist in the tale and it duly came in the 118th minute. Stephan Lichtsteiner dawdled on the ball and lost it, Lionel Messi quickly latched on to it and setup up Di María who finished with aplomb. In an instant a forgettable game turned into dream for the Real Madrid winger. Special mention goes to Rodrigo Palacio who worked his socks off winning the ball back, which led to Argentina’s winner.
Still time for late drama:
The Swiss, who have yet to win a game in the knockout stage, went hell for leather and were desperately unlucky not to have equalized when Blerim Džemaili’s header from six yards out cannoned off the post with the subsequent rebound rolling agonizingly wide. Even after that there were still seconds on the clock for Xherdan Shaqiri to have one last effort from a free kick. He couldn’t get his shot over the wall and Argentina escaped with a victory.
It was tough work for the Albiceleste and they were by no means impressive. If they continue to play this way, even with Lionel Messi in their ranks, the Argentines will be found out eventually.