The World Cup Round of 16 match between Argentina and Switzerland got off to a slow start as both teams sought to advance to the quarter-finals. The game went scoreless and there was a moment when both teams seemed to accept the possibility that the game would be decided by penalty kicks. Switzerland gave a valiant display against the South Americans, however in the end it was not enough to overcome the Argentine forces up top. Argentina will take the 1-0 victory and advance to the quarter-finals this weekend.
The first half proved to be pretty tame in terms of technical creativity. The Swiss defense was able to subdue the timid Argentine threats for the first 20 minutes of the match, leaving Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio largely untested.
The first real threat of the game came from Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka in the 28th minute. Shaqiri gave a pass to Xhaka who gave a great strike that forced Argentina’s Sergio Romero to make a save. Switzerland began to pick up momentum and had another dangerous opportunity in the 39th minute that Josip Drmić was unable to take advantage of. Coming off a counter-attack, Drmić was one-on-one to goal and instead of chipping the goalkeeper, the player gifted Romero with an easy lob that required no effort to grab.
As the first half came to a close, it seemed as though the Swiss tactic of sitting deep had begun to pay off. Their defense was not only able to disrupt Argentina’s attempts in the attacking third, but they also took advantage of the counter-attack and were able to be more dangerous for Argentina’s defense.
The tactic backfired in the second half as Argentina turned up the offensive pressure. Instead of a singular strategy of short quick passes around the top of the 18-yard box, Argentina started to move the ball with more urgency down the flanks. From either side, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Ángel di María proved dangerous enough to draw Swiss defenders wide and stretch the defense.
Argentina’s overall passing structure improved in the second half as they actually started moving forward into the space that the deep-seated Swiss defense left up for the taking. The Argentine pressure had drawn so many Swiss players back that the opportunity to capitalize on the counter-attack was rendered unmanageable for Switzerland. As the match approached the 90th minute scoreless, both teams would have to give an additional 30 minutes of overtime play.
Whatever glimpse of teamwork and technical collaboration Argentina began to show in the second half disappeared in overtime. There was little correspondence in the midfield and the Round of 16 football succumbed to the foul-flop syndrome.
Just as both teams seemed to accept the fate that the game would go to penalty kicks, Messi intercepted a Swiss pass and created a counter-attacking opportunity for Argentina in the 118th minute of play. The Argentine crutch carried the ball down the middle, and once he was able to draw a defender, he passed the ball off to di María who gave a one-touch grounder into the back of the net for the win.
Switzerland gave an outstanding effort to grab the equalizer, even sending Benaglio up to get on the end of set pieces. After a missed opportunity of a free kick in the 121th minute, the referee blew the whistle and closed the book on the World Cup Round of 16 for the two teams. Switzerland’s performance in the first half may have had some people questioning the odds, however Argentina returned fire in the second half and reinstated hierarchy. The game will undoubtedly go down as one of the more entertaining matches in the tournament despite the slow start. Argentina will face off against the winner of the U.S.-Belgium game in the World Cup quarter-finals on July 5.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
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