After 120-plus grueling minutes of intense play in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16, Switzerland is heading home to reevaluate and regroup for 2018. Argentina presented a difficult challenge for the Swiss, and ultimately came out victorious thanks, once again, to the efforts of Lionel Messi. Switzerland played a solid game, its defense much tighter against the Argentinians than in group play. The team closed holes that had gotten them into trouble in the past and managed to hold off Lionel Messi for 118 minutes.
A second of breakdown was all Messi needed, though, to setup the winning goal with less than two minutes left in extra time. A poor challenge by Ricardo Rodríguez left the Argentinians’ savior with yards of wide open green in the middle of the Swiss half of the field. Johan Djourou collapsed inward, leaving Angel di Maria wide open to slot an easy ball into the far corner past goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. The Swiss keeper had no chance, and the defenders at the back post just could not get there fast enough.
Meanwhile, Xherdan Shaqiri, Josip Drmić, and Haris Seferović threw everything they had at the opposing defense. Rodríguez ran relentlessly up and down the left sideline, putting cross after beautiful cross into the box, but even when the Swiss found the target, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero was there to block the shot. Switzerland kept attacking, even up to the last second, and in the 121st minute, it looked as though the team had pulled off another one of its last minute miracle goals. Blerim Džemaili got his head on a great corner kick, putting it low and just too far away, as the ball struck the post and ricocheted back into Džemaili’s knee and out of bounds.
The main problem for the Swiss lay in their sloppy tackles, which gave Argentina entirely too many free kicks throughout the game. Granit Xhaka was shown a yellow for a poor challenge in the 36th minute, causing Coach Ottmar Hitzfield to replace him with Gelson Fernandes in the second half, and it took Fernandes less than 10 minutes to receive a booking of his own. The cards hurt Switzerland’s play, as the players were forced to back off of challenges to avoid further bookings.
The Swiss also began to wear down from defending against Argentina’s relentless attack while trying to keep up their own counter. The fatigue hit Rodríguez just a few minutes too soon, and Messi jumped on the advantage. The striker set up the winning goal to beat Switzerland in the 2014 World Cup Round of 16, and the European side will head home after Tuesday.
Argentina ran into trouble early, letting Switzerland slip through the defense and get several good looks at the goal. Luckily for La Albiceleste, none of the attempts were successful, but the Swiss kept attacking, and looked likely to find the net after the first 45 minutes. Messi’s side locked in for the second half, though, and Switzerland had trouble finding the same rhythm. Argentina had over 60 percent of the possession and nearly twice as many shots on goal by the end of the match.
Switzerland put on an impressive show with a young, eager team for the 2014 World Cup, but in the end the Swiss could not hold up against the perseverance of Messi and the Argentinians, and will head home after Tuesday to see what lies in store for their future. Argentina advances to the World Cup Quarterfinals yet again on the back of Lionel Messi, and the South Americans will face the winner of Belgium versus the United States on Saturday.
Commentary by Christina Jones
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16