Angel Di Maria, it is fair to say, has given better accounts of himself on a football pitch. He was roughed up early on by Switzerland, he ran down blind alleys often crowded out by Switzerland defenders and he suffered the ultimate embarrassment of attempting a rabona that went sailing into the stands. However as his team struggled and other team-mates like Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi hid, Di Maria never lost confidence despite his, at times, woeful contributions. His ceaseless self-belief shone through and he never stopped demanding the ball and finally after 118 minutes of strife he dispatched Lionel Messi’s pass into the corner of the Swiss net with aplomb. Di Maria of course was not the only player who never gave up on his team’s hope of winning the match without the help of penalties. Messi was starved of space in front of the Swiss back four all game until the final two minutes of extra time and when he was finally presented with the space he needed to work his magic, the Argentina captain did so in emphatic fashion. He pierced deep into Swiss territory laying the ball on for Di Maria who drilled home to send the hordes of Argentinians in Sao Paulo wild. The fact that Messi will now play another game at this World Cup is reason enough to hail Argentina going through.
It is hardly the world’s best kept secret that Messi is pretty devastating when he is allowed time and space in the middle of the pitch anywhere remotely near the opposition goal. Switzerland did their best to deny to deny the world’s star performer a stage to play on with Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami sitting extremely deep in midfield. This meant that Messi was denied the pockets of space in front of the back four he regularly thrives in. Consequently the number 10 had to move further away from the Swiss goal to receive the ball and when he did try and work the ball onto his otherworldly left foot, he had to navigate robust challenges from the tenacious Behrami and the imposing Inler – something that was a struggle even for Messi at times. With the Barcelona man being kept about as quiet as you can keep a man of his astronomical talent and his team-mates not making a telling impact, the Swiss plan to frustrate Argentina worked to a tee (almost).
Although there is arguably no talent in world football comparable to that of Messi, Argentina still boast other players within their squad, who most right-thinking watchers of football would describe as genuinely top class. Most clubs in world football would be drooling over the prospect of having Di Maria, Higuain and Lavezzi in their starting line-up. As well as Messi, Argentina have all three, yet each one of them were markedly below their best. Di Maria never stopped trying to make things happen but everything (apart from his shot for the goal) he attempted seemed to go wrong, Higuain was plodding throughout and squandered good chances, while Lavezzi’s impact on the game was practically untraceable. Messi tried his best to carry his team through but the minimal and wretched contributions of his less notable but still illustrious compatriots meant his country were dangerously close to being unable to find a breakthrough.
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