After another less-than-inspiring performance, it couldn't be any clearer that Argentina will go as far as Lionel Messi can take them. But he's now taken them at least as far as the quarterfinals.
It took 117 minutes, but Messi finally shook free of Switzerland's disciplined defense to jink his way into the box and set up a shot for Angel Di Maria, who buried it low past Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio to put the Albiceleste up 1-0.
Amazingly, even with only two minutes and stoppage to work with, the Swiss nearly tied it up to force a penalty kick shootout. Substitute Blerim Dzemaili was given a free header only four yards from goal only to send the ball against the post, and Xherdan Shaqiri had a free kick chance blocked by the Argentinean wall on the final kick of the game.
The game had been largely lifeless until its dying minutes, though both Messi and Gonzalo Higuain had forced the excellent Benaglio into smart saves in the second half.
Switzerland's best opportunities came in the first 45 minutes, with Granit Xhaka's low drive parried away well by Sergio Romero and Josep Drmic making a poor decision when played in one-on-one with the Argentine keeper, chipping weakly directly into Romero's arms.
Argentina move on to play the winner of the Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States. The Albiceleste still have Messi, and he's proven that that alone may well be enough -- but with the likes of Higuain and Di Maria struggling as they did Tuesday (and have throughout the tournament), neither the Belgians nor US will enter the quarterfinals particularly afraid of the South American giants.
For our full CBSSports.com liveblog of the match, see below:
FULLTIME: Argentina 1, Switzerland 0! 117 minutes of bordeom, 3 minutes of some of the wildest soccer you'll ever see. Because that's this World Cup. This photo following the goal sums up the Swiss reaction:
120+3' -- How is this game still going on? The Swiss have a free kick just outside the box after Shaqiri is fouled? This is a TON of stoppage time for a single goal.
120' -- HOLY CRAP. A Swiss cross finds the head of Dzemaili who heads against the post from THREE YARDS. HOW ON EARTH. And that was AFTER Benaglio had come forward and attempted a bicyle kick!
119' -- Swiss turnover leads to another dynamic Messi run, dishes to Di Maria, his low shot beats Benaglio! INCREDIBLE.
118' -- GOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLL ARGENTINA! DI MARIA!
115' -- Just skip to PKs, guys.
112' -- Only took 112 minutes, but Di Maria finally showed up, going on a jinking run that ends with a nice-looking shot blocked out for a corner. Of course, he follows that by blazing a volley eight miles over the bar.
109' -- JINX: immediately after posting the following, Di Maria unleashes a fierce drive towards Benaglio's near post which he does very well to tip away. After some shaky moments early in the tournament, he's been the Swiss's best player today by a wide margin.
106' -- When this is the debate among soccer fans as regards Argentina today ...
Hes been Pele compared to Higuain "@LordMoloch: Di Maria is on a mission to redefine the very concept of a match-losing performance."— KanuDawg (@KanuDawg) July 1, 2014
EXTRA TIME BREAK: Only 15 minutes until the outpouring of Tweets from folks who don't watch soccer telling soccer how it should avoid using penalty kicks!
105' -- Argentina seem totally out of ideas with a series of long hoofs, giving the Swiss a chance to actually hold possession for a while -- and the anti-Argentina Brazil fans in attendance the chance to delightedly start chanting "OLE!" with each successful Swiss pass. Penalties beckon.
101' -- OK, time to just come right out and say it: IF the US can get past Belgium -- if if if if if if if -- the Yanks will have absolutely nothing (other than Messi) to fear from either of these two teams. Just precious little on display to suggest either is deserving of a semifinal berth.
99' -- From across the pond:
I must be very tired. I seem to be watching an English third-division match circa 1987, in Brazil, with Lionel Messi playing— Simon Kuper (@KuperSimon) July 1, 2014
96' -- Listen, Argentina: giving up needless free kicks from five yards outside the box is a really, REALLY dumb idea when you're bossing the game and it looks like that's the only way your opponent could possibly score in extra time. They get away with it, though, Shaqiri eventually blasting well over the bar from 30 yards.
95' -- Extrs time starts with -- YOU GUESSED IT -- some Argentina pressure and a corner kick Benaglio just manages to deflect wide. Switzerland come back with an inviting-looking cross that Seferovic can't quite head on target. More of this, please.
END OF REGULATION: Hey, look at that, it's 0-0 as we head to extra time. Who would have ever guessed? Other than -- by about the 35th minute or so -- everyone. As has been the case for the past hour, Argentina are more likely to score, but you can't rule out a Swiss smash-and-grab, either.
90+2' -- There was the Swiss set-piece chance you KNEW was coming, with Fabian Schar heading over from a well-executed Inler free kick. Hearts in mouths for the Argentina fans, no doubt.
89' -- Messi with another dazzling run to tee up substitute Rodrigo Palacio, who tries to take a touch -- with a defender on his back and no more than six yards from goal -- and watches the ball go out for a corner. Remember when LeBron took the Cavs to the 2007 finals? At some point, this Argentina team are going to face their Spurs.
87' -- CONTROVERSY as Messi tries to take a free kick quickly, Behrami places himself squarely in the way, and Messi gives him a bit of a shove -- after which Behrami collapses like the proverbial sack of potatoes. Thankfull, the ref doesn't card anyone involved. Nice officiating.
83' -- Swiss substitute Haris Seferovic -- hero of the game vs. Ecuador -- goes on a long solo run past multiple Argentina defenders ... and at the end of his run, still has no teammate within 40 yards of him. If they're going to win it, the Swiss are either going to win it on a set piece, or penalties ... and it's far more likely to be penalties.
78' -- MESSI! In a virtual replay of his goal vs. Bosnia, Messi dances past multiple Swiss defenders and fires on target -- but this time Benaglio gets down to make a truly remarkable save, his best of the game. Still 0-0, but consider the screws tightened.
75' -- Messi flights in an incredible cross with two teammates read yat the back post to head home, but the slightly worse-positioned of the two takes it on ... and it bounces wide. Oof.
72' -- It does appear that if this game has a goal in it, it's going to be Argentina's:
The Swiss have retreated to the safe confines of a cute little castle on Lake Geneva. They don't do buses. pic.twitter.com/YxFjlhLLEG— NTX (@NTXabi) July 1, 2014
68' -- SHOT, Messi! Argentina's best spell of continued pressure leads to a volleyed attempt from their superstar that doesn't go high by much. Nice to have the little reminder of what the world's best player is capable of.
65' -- Partly because they're out of sorts, partly because the Swiss are absolutely overloading the center of defense, Argentina have resorted to crosses as their principal offensive weapon. This makes sense, because they have a huge, powerful target forward in there.
Just kidding! Their attackers are barely tall enough to avoid falling afoul of child booster seat laws -- and all these crosses don't make a lot of sense.
62' -- Higuain header, SAVED! Benaglio with either goalkeeper's best stop of the game after Higuain sent a flashing header on target from the middle of the box. Switzerland counter, but Gokhan Inler's pass goes to no one. Anyone's game.
60' -- Oh, Di Maria -- the Real Madrid star blows past Rodriguez with a beautiful move, then sends his cross behind the goal under no pressure whatsoever. Not his day.
58' -- Rojo with a dangerous-looking cross from the left wing, but Benaglio gets a strong hand to it and punches clear. Then Rojo gets a shot on target, which Benaglio almost fumbles! Finally, finally, Argentina is beginning to look a threat again.
56' -- [picture of liveblogger yawning, looking up US lineup rumors]
49' -- That pressure ends -- again -- without any real opportunity for an Argentine score, and a counter ends with a Swiss free kick which -- again -- doesn't trouble Romero. Quality in the final third from both teams has simply been lacking, the end.
47' -- Second half is underway, with Messi sending Lavezzi to the endline with a clever ball -- his pullback is cleared for a corner. Argentina with some nice early pressure.
HALFTIME: Suffice it to say that, yeah, Argentina's efforts to get their star the ball have been lacking:
“Hey man, we're starting a team and we get Messi.””Cool! So we try to get him infinite touches, right?””Nah, it'll prob just happen."— maxthompson (@maxthompson) July 1, 2014
HALFTIME: Half ends, appropriately, with another failed Switzerland corner kick. Again, both teams are making an effort to get forward -- neither has had the quality to make that effort count for much of anything. So far, it's been the very definition of a "damp squib."
41' -- Ball pops to Di Maria in the box, but his shot is tame and held. Messi and Lavezzi look lively, but Di Maria hasn't been on song yet. At all.
39' -- Drmic is played into space, Romero mystifyingly stays on his line despite loads of time to come for the ball .... and with no one other than the keeper within 20 yards of him, Drmic tries a chip that Romero gathers with ease. Switzerland with both of the game's best chances so far.
35' -- Argentina's defense hasn't been that bad thus far -- better than it showed against Nigeria, anyway -- but this (from Grantland's Brian Phillips) is still too good not to share:
Watching the Argentina defense is like hearing the attendant say "wait, where'd this bolt come from" just as you start the log flume ride.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) July 1, 2014
32' -- Swizerland's defenders are repeatedly trying to dribble out of the back under Argentinean pressure. It's going about as well as you'd think.
30' -- This time it's Argentina's turn to come within a whisker on a set piece, with Garay coming within millimeters of connecting with a corner kick -- and that's with Benaglio out of position and the goal gaping from five yards. Finally, things seem to be coming to life.
28' -- And as we type that, Shaqiri jinks his way free down the endline and squares for Xhaka, who draws a fine save out of Romero from 12 yards! Romero saves a long-range follow-up shot as well. Best chance of the game by a wide margin -- and a good sign for an Argentina team that might consider its goalkeeper a weak spot.
25' -- Messi's free kicks may be a bit better delivered straight on goal than looking for a teammate -- that one was a good couple of yards behind his intended target, Higuain, whose header sails over the bar. Switzerland earn a corner on the other end ... bounces in the box, but cleared. Free kicks may be either team's best chance ...
21' -- Messi splits two players on the edge of the Swiss box, can't quite catch up the ball. Story of Argentina's attack so far in microcosm: good effort, clever ideas, just not quite sharp enough in execution as of yet.
16' -- Pablo Zabaleta makes a nice run down the right, but his medium-paced cross is easily gathered by Benaglio. Maybe it's not the aforemntioned Switzerland-Ukraine match (see below), but not a lot to get excited about in this one so far.
12' -- Both sides attempting to get their offense going, but between Switzerland's physical defense at one end and errant passing at the other, neither team is having a lot of success. No clear chances yet, either way ... though an Argentinean low cross forces Swiss keeper Benaglio into action. He collects without any difficulty.
8' -- Good news: Switzerland isn't here to bunker, with Mehmedi breakidn down the left flank and some nice work from Shaqiri earning a corner. Inler blasts a shot well high, but yeah, Argentina is going to have to play some defense today.
3' -- Argentina unsurprisingly have the bulk of early possession, with Switzerland sitting deep -- maybe even more deeply than expected. The last time we saw Switzerland in a World Cup knockout stage, by the way, they played a 0-0 draw with Ukraine in 2006 that went down as arguably the most boring match in recent World Cup memory. Let's hope for better today.
1' -- And we're off! Argentina are the better side -- any team with Messi, Higuain, and Di Maria in attack will be the better side in nearly any match it plays -- but Switzerland will have some reasons for confidence, as listed in the our preview below.
Pregame: Starting lineups:
As expected, Ezequiel Lavezzi replaces the injured Sergio Aguero. Switzerland is unchanged from the 11 that destroyed Honduras.