The 2014 FIFA World Cup is still waiting for a team to put its hand up and play attractive, decisive and convincing football on a consistent basis. Many teams have had a flash in the pan but nothing consistent. Great players stand up to be counted when times are tough or when the odds are against them. Lionel Messi is one such great player, the most accomplished, successful and revered player of his generation. In a tight game against the Swiss, Messi provided yet another clutch moment as he conjured up a little magic when it mattered most.
The Tactical Battle
Argentina and Switzerland were deadlocked in a battle of attrition as both sides tried to prevent the other from playing their natural style of football. The Swiss harried and harassed Argentina, forcing them to play a more disjointed game, at a much lower tempo than usual too. Playing on the break with Xherdan Shaqiri as the main outlet, Switzerland looked to catch out the Argentine defence. Shaqiri who has been a Swiss hero at the World Cup, put in another stela performance as he tormented the Argentine defenders and even won over the hearts of natural and Brazilians who were in the stadium.
Special attention was paid to Leo Messi, no surprises there, as Inler and Behrami were tasked with man-marking the four-time world player of the year. Messi despite being crowded out every time he received the ball, he continued to whole heartedly score or create the goal that would give his side the lead. Meanwhile Josip Drimic wasted a golden opportunity as his poor chip attempt in the latter stages of the first half, gifted the ball to often criticised Argentine keeper Sergio Romero. Romero also produced two good saves from efforts from Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichtsteiner respectively.
Argentina had an opportunity to seal the game too in extra time but Higuain had a powerful close-range header tipped over the cross bar. With the dreaded penalty shoot-out on the brink the diminutive sensation that is Messi produced the goods. Collecting the ball after 118 minutes, Messi angled his run across the Swiss box, glided round Fabian Schaer and stroked a pass right to Ángel di Maria. Argentina’s No 7, showed more of his Real Madrid form which had seemed to elude him during the course of the game. Di Maria coolly slotted the ball past the Swiss keeper to hand Argentina the lead with less than two minutes left on the clock.
Last second drama
The Swiss threw everything they had in the last few seconds they had after conceding. Their last ditch effort almost paid dividend as Blerim Dzemali’s header crashed against the post before he put the rebound wide. The last kick of the game provided the last chance to force a penalty shoot-out as Shaqiri’s free-kick from the edge of the box was the last kick of the game.