Di Maria to the rescue: This was not a vintage performance from Argentina. We’re still waiting for one from the Albiceleste in Brazil. Argentina has produced moments of genius, but not a complete game performance. That was the case again on Tuesday, as they laboured for most of the match against the Swiss. Dreary build-up play, picking the wrong passing option and a poor final ball was what we saw from the South Americans. Lionel Messi was contained and neutralized by the Swiss who swarmed him every chance they could. Only Angel Di Maria proved a dangerous attacking outlet. Argentina struggled to find its way through Switzerland’s stealth five-man midfield. In fact, it was the Swiss who carved out the better scoring chances. But the Europeans couldn’t make Argentina pay for its lethargic display. A penalty shootout loomed. And then came yet another moment of brilliance out of nowhere that allowed Argentina to escape. Substitute Rodrigo Palacio won the ball in midfield and fed Messi, who went on one of his probing runs, giving Swiss defender Fabian Schaer the slip. Di Maria worked himself into the penalty area with nobody near him. Messi picked him out with a decisive pass, and Di Maria did the rest, firing home in the 118th minute. One play, one simple flowing move, one goal. Suddenly, Argentina’s dreadful display didn’t matter. One moment of magic and genuine quality saw them edge past a dogged Swiss side. It’s worked for them so far, as it did for France on home soil in 1998 when they unconvincingly made their way through the tournament before finally pouring on the style in the final. Will it work for Argentina? We’ll see.
Simply breathless: Thank you, Belgium and the United States. Thank you very much. Neutral fans from around the world owe both of your national teams a big debt of gratitude after that breathless display in Salvador. On paper, this was one of the least attractive fixtures of the Round of 16. It turned out to be the most entertaining and dramatic of the competition thus far. This match had a bit of West Germany vs. Italy in the 1970 semifinals in it: A somewhat lifeless 90 minutes of regulation where two teams cancelled each other out, followed by 30 minutes of extra time that was an absolute thrill ride featuring several twists and turns in the plot. Goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku in the 93rd and 105th minute seemed to settle the matter. Lukaku came on at the start of the first extra time period and his fresh legs gave extra oomph to a Belgian team that was the far better side in regulation but couldn’t find a way to score. Lukaku’s hard work in setting up De Bruyne and then scoring his first goal of the competition seemed to finish off the Americans. The U.S. was clinging to life and more than a little desperate, underlined by manager Jurgen Klinsmann decision to bring on 19-year-old Julian Green at the start of the second extra time period. But the move paid off—like Lukaku had done earlier, Green’s energy put an extra step in the Americans’ tired legs and his goal in the 107th minute suddenly made it a contest again. The U.S. pressed, but the Belgians last-ditch defending saw them hold on—just barely.
Belgium survived, but there were heroes on both sides. Lukaku was absolutely sensational when he entered, instantly changing the landscape of the game with his pace. Kevin Mirallas, a second half sub, had a similar effect for Belgium, as did Green for the U.S. De Bruyne was a lightning rod for the Belgians, causing problems for the American defence with his runs and deft touch around the box. But the man who had the biggest influence was Tim Howard. This was a goalkeeping effort for the ages. The Everton man absolutely kept his team in the contest with his series of athletic stops. In total, he made 16 saves. 16! That’s more saves in a single game than any other goalkeeper at the World Cup since 1966. The United States is going home, but not without a valiant fight and display of character from a team of mostly MLS players. As for Belgium, we finally saw traces of the promising side that had been touted so much in the build-up to this competition.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
Stat of the day
All 8 quarter-finalists are the teams that won their groups. Has never happened since the move to 32 teams in 1998.
Argentina’s winning goal saw Lionel Messi combine with Angel Di Maria. With a penalty shootout looming, Messi gave his marker the slip as he made a surging run down towards the penalty area and shifted the ball to the right for Di Maria, who sent a left-footed shot into the bottom corner past diving goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.
Save of the day
Tim Howard made a number of great saves, with his best effort coming in the 76th minute. Divock Origi turned to create space for himself as he received the ball before playing Kevin Mirallas in on goal. Mirallas hit a left-footed shot from in close, only to see his Everton teammate Tim Howard make a fabulous kick save.
Best moment of the day
In the second half of extra time, the Swiss broke and pressed forward in Argentina’s half when Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson got in the way of Xherdan Shaqiri. After losing possession, Shaqiri shot Eriksson a death stare. If looks could kill.
He said it
“We know that this could happen to us, but we gave our souls out there on the pitch. We fought with our lives for each ball and we ended up as the winners.” – Angel Di Maria
1) Tim Howard: The American posted, without question, the best goalkeeping performance of this tournament, standing on his head in a losing effort against a Belgian side that was just too much. 2) Romelu Lukaku: The Belgian forward came on at the start of extra time and made a huge impact, setting up one goal and scoring another to sink the resilient Americans. 3) Angel di Maria: The Real Madrid man never lost steam even as the game carried on, and capped off a strong game his winning goal deep into extra time.