The Barcelona superstar provided the game's outstanding moment, a slick assist to Angel Di Maria to see his side into the quarter-finals after a titanic struggle
By Kris Voakes at Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo
Lionel Messi made the difference once again to send Argentina into the World Cup quarter-finals but, like so many of the great footballing nations they will join in the last eight, they still have yet to truly stake their claim to be the world’s best come July 13.
We are still waiting for a convincing performance from one of the World Cup’s outstanding nations and the Albiceleste took until the dying moments of extra time to see off a Switzerland side who until then had had an answer to everything that Alejandro Sabella’s men had attempted.
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But the nature of the win and the fact that Blerim Dzemaili came within inches of an immediate equaliser will leave Sabella and his staff with plenty still to ponder.
They had been put under pressure long before then, too, with Switzerland having most of the better chances in the first half. Granit Xhaka shot meekly at Sergio Romero after a great piece of skill from Xherdan Shaqiri had allowed the Bayern Munich man to cut back to his well-placed team-mate. It was not their only big chance, either.
Moments before half-time, Shaqiri poked a great return pass into space for Josip Drmic to run onto, with Romero having made the puzzling decision to stay at home, but the striker couldn’t make the most of the chance, deciding to attempt a chip over the goalkeeper only to drop it tamely into Romero’s arms.
They were opportunities that Ottmar Hitzfeld and his side appeared destined to regret.
Argentina had opportunities of their own in the second half, with Gonzalo Higuain forcing a save out of Diego Benaglio before substitute Rodrigo Palacio glanced just wide with his first touch of the game.
As the waves of pressure began to intensify, Messi hit one chance just over from distance and then fired in a shot low at the near post, with Benaglio getting down quickly to save before getting a knee from Palacio for his troubles but, for all their domination, they just could not find a way to break the deadlock. With Valon Behrami working double time ahead of the back four, it took moments of sheer genius for Messi to get anything more than a couple of yards to himself.
Extra time brought plenty of 'Ole!'s from the crowd but, unexpectedly, they came in support of some fancy play from Switzerland. By that point they needed to keep the ball as much to conserve some energy as they did for any attempt to find a winner.
Di Maria tested Benaglio from distance but, while Argentina probed around the area for long spells, they remained largely toothless. For every Messi incision, there was a poor read here and a heavy touch there.
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When the final whistle blew, Argentines all around the ground took off their shirts and swung them around above their heads. They are beginning to believe but - with the side just one of a number who could yet put a run of form together – they know there could well be more hairy moments to come. Argentina are through - but only just.
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