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‘Lady Luck’ helps Argentina stay on course for 3rd WCup Pride helps Swiss coach cope with loss

SAO PAULO, July 2, (RTRS): The “luck of champions” helped Lionel Messi’s Argentina scrape into the World Cup last eight on Tuesday past an increasingly daring Switzerland in their quest for a third World Cup. None of the surviving pre-tournament favourites have had an easy passage into the quarter-finals, with hosts Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands also suffering their share of scares before finally overcoming tenacious opponents. Angel Di Maria’s strike for Argentina two minutes from the end of extra time in their last-16 clash secured a 1-0 victory, although the Swiss almost equalised in the dying moments when substitute Blerim Dzemaili’s header struck the post.


“Yesterday Germany, Holland the day before. Nothing’s easy, it’s all hard work. Football has evolved today and everything’s very level,” Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said.
“We had luck on our side,” Man of the Match Messi added.
Argentina’s goal came from the only moment in which Messi, well marked by a clockwork-like defence, found the space to make a telling contribution with his pass to Di Maria and the Swiss were for once caught at least a man short in defence.
It was the one telling moment in a disappointing performance by Di Maria, with Argentina still waiting for him and Gonzalo Higuain to find their best form, while Messi clearly missed having the injured Sergio Aguero alongside him.
A tournament that began with an exciting group phase full of goals and shock results, has reverted to tight matches, with two going to penalties and another three decided by a single goal before the final match of the first knockout round.
The Swiss, like the other surprise teams in Brazil, gave Argentina a hard time, blocking their path to goal with Messi, unable to score after netting four goals in the three group matches, becoming increasingly frustrated.
More than that they played a big part in a match that could have gone either way, their breaks down the flanks troubling the Argentine defence. Like Chile and Mexico before them, the Swiss would not have been out of place in the last eight.
They showed a tactical organisation similar to that displayed by Costa Rica who enjoyed a surprise run through their group with upset wins over Uruguay and Italy, or Algeria in breaking into the last 16 from Group H.
Switzerland, with three members of the 2009 under-17 World Cup winners in their side, owed their second place in Group E to the awareness and concentration they showed in stealing an opening 2-1 win over Ecuador from an added time counter-attack.
Messi’s equivalent in the Brazil team, Neymar, has also cut a frustrated figure at times for the hosts whose tortuous path to the last eight also owed a lot to luck as they held out against Chile at the Maracana before winning on penalties.
Organised underdogs look sure to continue to frustrate their more highly-vaunted opponents as the tournament moves towards the final on July 13. Who will win? Lady Luck could decide.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi picked up his fourth man of the match award in a row against Switzerland on Tuesday but he admitted the prize was barely deserved in a World Cup last-16 game was marked more by collective effort than individual brilliance.
“I don’t know whether I deserved this one or not but what is important is that we move on to the next stage which is what we wanted,” Messi told reporters after team’s 1-0 extra-time win.
“It was not an easy match and it’s been that way throughout the World Cup. What is important is that we won.”
Messi was effectively shackled by a superb Swiss defence and had few chances to show the kind of form that won him four world player of the year awards in a row between 2009 and 2012.
But when he did get a chance to run, his contribution was decisive. With two minutes remaining in extra time he laid the ball off for winger Angel Di Maria to stroke the winner past Diego Benaglio.
“During that special play, a little bit of everything went through my head,” said a smiling Messi.
“I thought maybe I should take a chance, then I saw Angel over there and I decided to pass the chance to him and fortunately we are able to celebrate.”
Messi won man-of-the-match awards in Argentina’s three group games against Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria and scored four of Argentina’s six goals.
But he admitted the Swiss gave him and his team mates a scare at the Corinthians arena.
“I was nervous at times just like anyone else because we couldn’t score a goal and any mistake could have put us out, minutes were going by and we didn’t want penalties,” he said.
“We wanted to define the game in extra time.”


When asked how he felt with the clock running down, he replied: “Suffering, suffering, that’s what we felt. We know will go through times like this. That’s football. We had luck on our side and we have to take advantage of it and to move on.
“We know that all matches will be on equal footing. You win the match because of minor details. It’s a World Cup and when you are here you don’t have an easy opponent.”
For Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, the last-ditch loss to Argentina a day after his elder brother died was hard to bear, but he took solace in the pride he felt in his team after they had come so close to shutting out the overwhelming favourites.


“I have a quiet life in front of me,” a stoney-faced Hitzfeld told a news conference at which reporters were requested not to ask him about the passing of his brother.
“My job as a coach has finished here. I am proud of my career. I was very fortunate to coach some marvellous teams, and the Swiss national team.
“It has been a great honour ... and I am proud to say goodbye to the Swiss team with my heart full of emotions.”


Hitzfeld joined the national team in 2008 and was seeking to lead Switzerland to their first appearance in the World Cup quarter-finals since 1954, when they reached the last eight on home soil.
The loss ended one of the most distinguished careers in European soccer.
The former player won two Swiss championships, seven German championships and three German Cups.
He also won the Champions League twice — with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001 — making him one of only a handful of coaches to lift the trophy with two different clubs.
“We know that Messi, in one second, can decide a match. He has sufficient qualities to do that,” Hitzfeld said.
“But then (there was) the pass to Di Maria and then the marvellous shot by Di Maria. It was certainly not easy to get past our goalkeeper. (Diego) Benaglio had a great match.”


Hitzfeld was asked whether he regretted being too defensive against Argentina, but he said he had got the tactics right. “You can, of course, surprise Argentina, but when Argentina have sufficient space, look at what happened in the last three minutes,” he said.
“If we had attacked against Argentina we would have let in more goals than against France.”
Switzerland lost 5-2 to France in the group stage, but qualified for the round of 16 with wins over Ecuador and Honduras.
Hitzfeld said the game was emotionally super-charged.
“Today, this (emotion) was a huge dimension. It is a World Cup and you had the chance of getting to a penalty shootout and that of course creates enormous tension. I think we can walk tall and leave football with our heads held high.”

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