The final two matches of the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 will take place Tuesday as the advancing teams gear up for the quarter-finals. Argentina is set to take on the second seed of Group E, Switzerland, at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo. Despite backlash for Argentina’s dependence on chief crutch, Lionel Messi, La Albiceleste are looking to squash the Swiss hopefuls in Tuesday’s match.
Most recently, Switzerland put on a good display against Honduras, where midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri led his team to victory with a hat trick. The performance reinforced the Bayern Munich player’s nom de guerre, the Messi of the Alps.
Switzerland coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, has also jumped on the bandwagon of equating his players with better known football stars by comparing midfielder Granit Xhaka with Bastian Schweinsteiger of Die Mannschaft. If both comparisons hold true, Argentina will have a tough road ahead of them for the World Cup’s Round of 16 tomorrow.
Argentina fought against a double standard going into the tournament this year. On the one hand Messi was criticized for his inability to perform on the national stage. After Messi silenced dissenters by scoring four of the team’s six goals in group play, the Argentine squad was then slated for an overdependence on Messi.
Hitzfeld has made up his mind about how to defend Messi. In an interview with the Swiss journal Blick, the coach said, “Man-to-man marking against Messi? No.” For Hitzfeld, the overall organization of his team’s defense is sufficient to deal with the Argentine crutch. Even though the Swiss have not come out victorious against Argentina in the past, Hitzfeld remains hopeful that his team will perform well, stating “In one game, anything is possible.”
The Argentine squad has prepared themselves to combat a solid Swiss offense. Argentina’s defense will be keeping a close eye on striker Josip Drmić, who fed two of Shaqiri’s goals against Honduras. The two players have shown promise when paired up top so it will be important for Argentina’s back line to keep composure and avoid breaking down like they did against Nigeria.
Switzerland’s defense is in a similar boat, having received criticism for breaking down when under pressure. The humbling 5-2 loss that France dealt the Swiss in the middle of the group stages is likely to be a point of reference for Argentina’s offense. Though La Albiceleste will be down an injured Sergio Agüero, strikers Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Lavezzi will make up the three-pronged attack with Messi.
While Lavezzi and Messi have not logged the same amount of playtime together as the Messi-Agüero combination, Argentina expects to hand the Swiss another France-esque defeat. The biggest threat to the Swiss defense will come in the form of a counter-attack driven by Messi and midfielder Ángel di María.
Tuesday’s match marks the conclusion of the World Cup Round of 16. The winner will advance to the quarter-finals on July 5. If Argentina are successful and defeat the Swiss hopefuls, they will go up against either the U.S. or Belgium in the quarter-finals.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage of the FIFA World Cup Round of 16