It seemed a matter of time before the Argentines would score. With the incomparable Lionel Messi wearing the blue and white jersey, how could they not?
Yet time kept slipping away . . . and slipping away . . . until the 118th minute of the two-hour match. As a penalty kicks shootout loomed, Messi, unshadowed with the ball in midfield after a day of being engulfed by Switzerland defenders, motored into the box and connected with Angel di Maria on the right. His searing shot accounted for the only goal in a game that began with the promise of periodic digging out the ball from the nets.
The 1-0 victory vaults Argentina into the quarterfinals and a run-in with the winner of U.S. versus Belgium.
Most of the match's thrills were jammed into the closing minutes. The Swiss, who had spent halftime on packing the penalty box in front of Argentina's goal, nearly answered pronto on Blerem Dzemaili's laser-like header from point-blank range. It ricocheted off the far post.
Then Di Maria almost ended the suspense with a long, blooping shot at an empty net, vacated when Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio had charged up the field to contribute on offense. The ball went wide.
Somehow, time remained for more drama. Shaqiri, ever dangerous, was fouled just outside the box and was awarded a free kick. It was blocked, and the referee's extended whistle brought relief to an Argentina team for whom defeat would have been disastrous.
The projected wild game unfurled frustratingly, except to Swiss devotees, whose team's rugged play was reflected in 29 fouls for the game. The ploy, supplemented by bottling up Messi, disrupted Argentina's typically fluid attack. Barely a peep was heard on offense, with Messi unable to let fly a single shot until an hour into the match.
In fact, the Swiss easily could have gone in front by halftime. Josip Drmic found himself dribbling in open space, with only Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero standing between him and a 1-0 lead. Drmic's chip shot was so anemic that it more resembled a pass to Romero, who earlier had repelled a more forceful point-blank attempt by Fabian Schar.
Momentum swung to Argentina after halftime, but constant incursions into the box amounted to few threats -- until the end of OT. Messi can be stopped for awhile, but not forever.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times