Argentina Scrape Past Switzerland


by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 1st 2014)

Late Show

Real Madridʼs Ángel di María Hernández had an awful match by his standards, missing chances and wasting possession several times, yet with just two minutes of extra time remaining he scored the winning goal. Lionel Messi was named man of the match, but did little to justify it. This was a poor match, although Ottmar Hitzfeldʼs tactics canʼt be faulted.

After being mauled by France, Hitzfeld chose to keep things tight and frustrate Messi and co. It almost worked. With less than three minutes of extra time remaining Rodrigo Palacio passed to Messi in the centre. He ran towards the area before slipping it to di María on the right. The Real Madrid man shot across the keeper to break Swiss hearts.

But they almost responded. Ricardo Rodríguez Arayaʼs corner found its way to Bayern Münchenʼs Xherdan Shaqiri on the other wing. Napoliʼs Blerim Džemailiʼs last minute header hit the post with Argentinaʼs keeper Sergio Romero beaten. It rebounded onto Džemailiʼs knee and went wide. Shortly afterwards with the Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio trying to find an equaliser di María tried an audacious effort from just inside his own half. It went just wide.


The first half had little to recommend it. Di María was repeatedly fouled. The shooting was wayward. Sergio Romero saved with his legs from Granit Xhaka after 25 minutes. Ten minutes later Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson decided that Xhakaʼs awful tackle on Ezequiel Lavezzi deserved a booking – it did.

Argentina lacked final product with di María losing possession almost 40 times in normal time, but Switzerlandʼs Josip Drmić wasted the best opportunity of the 90 minutes chipping a stranded Romero. He made such a hash of his lob that Romero caught easily. The keeper stood rooted in no-manʼs land. Drmić should have scored easily.

Switzerland invited Argentina to break them down – a task that should have been against ten men as two minutes into the second half Xhaka clattered di María. It should have been his second yellow card and therefore a red card, but Eriksson pulled play back to deny the advantage to Argentina without showing a card.

Argentina created chances for substitute Rodrigo Palacio almost as soon as he came on, but he headed wide. Higuaín had another off day. Di María was having a shocking game and Messi despite his skill could not find a way past Diego Benaglio, but for all his trick and a sumptuous volley that just cleared the bar with time running out he found the key to unlock a stubborn Swiss team with penalties looming.

Three minutes into the second half of extra time di María found his range drawing a tip over from Benaglio from his 20 yard effort. Argentina will play far better and lose, but Alejandro Sabella wonʼt care. His team are in the last eight without playing well or Messi scoring. Meanwhile, Hitzfeld has retired.



Swiss Roll On To The Last 16

by Richard Duke © Richard Duke (June 25th 2014)

Shaqiri Shines

A hat-trick by Xherdan Shaqiri, the second of the tournament, put the Swiss into the last 16, after a comfortable win against a limited but spirited Honduran side in Manaus. In fairly humid conditions the Swiss knew that as long as they bettered Ecuadorʼs result against France, they would go into the next phrase and it did not take them long to take the lead.

In the 6th minute Shaqiri scored a wonder goal. The Bayern Munich forward scored a goal out of nothing from about 25 yards. He pinged a left foot shot past the Honduran keeper Noel Valladares who seemed to wave bye bye to the ball as he thought it was going wide, but instead the ball landed in the top left corner.


As the first half wore on the Swiss were in complete control as the Hondurans were tackling in their roughshod manner which has been their hallmark of the tournament. The Swiss who were causing problems to the Hondurans with their movement up front. Meanwhile, Honduras seemed to be getting dispirited and in the 31st minute Switzerland made it two with a breakaway goal.

Deep in their own half, the Swiss won the ball through their captain Gökhan Inler who then played it out to Drmić, who then played the ball out to Shaqiri in the centre and with the Honduran defence wide open, Shaqiri slipped the ball coolly past Valladares.

As the second half kicked off with Honduras making a substitution of Marvin Chavez coming on for Roger Epinoza, Honduras knew that they were going out of the World Cup, and made a spirited start, and had a chance from Jerry Bengtson who had a shot cleared of the line and Jerry Palacios had a penalty appeal turned away by the Argentinian referee after a slight touch by Johan Djourou.


Switzerland made the game safe in the 71st minute with Shaqiri completing his hat trick, again with another breakaway, and again Josip Drmić was involved, as the ball was played out wide by Ricardo Rodríguez to Drmić. After beating a defender Drmić passed to Shaqiri who again easily beat the keeper with a left foot shot, without a Honduran defender in sight – game over.

Also that goal was the 50th hat-trick in World Cup history. With the game as good as finished Shaqiri was substitued with 5 mins left to receive a well earned ovation from the Swiss fans.

After hearing the news that Ecuador had only drawn with France, the Swiss knew that they were on the way to the next round. So Ottmar Hitzfeld knows he has one more game at least before he retires as Swiss coach. Unfortunately for them itʼs against Argentina, led by an inspired Lionel Messi.


Precision Timing

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 15th 2014)


Despite holding England to a 2-2 draw in Miami Ecuadorian hearts were were broken by meticulous planning and Swiss precision. With seconds remaining substitute Haris Seferović scored from close range after a rapid break. Just before Michael Arroyo Mina was given the chance to become a hero to his people, but failed to shoot. Napoliʼs Valon Behrami made the timely block and the broke rapidly.

The referee played an excellent advantage which allowed Switzerland to counter-attack. Ricardo Rodríguez Arayaʼs cross from the left was knocked in at the near post from close range. Seferović had been somewhat goal-shy for his club, netting just four times for Real Sociedad, but Ottmar Hitzfeld who has masterminded Switzerlandʼs stealthy rise to sixth in the world rankings, wonʼt care a whit.


Almost a year ago Manchester Unitedʼs Antonio Valencia Mosquera lost his friend and national team-mate Christian Benítez Betancourt aged just 27. Benítezʼ squad number 11 was retired and a public funeral was attended by Valencia and the countryʼs President Rafael Correa Delgado, among others. Valencia was given the captaincy of Ecuador, but despite retaining it against England, the armband was given to his name-sake Enner Valencia Lastra.

Enner scored the opening goal against England and did so against the Swiss too. Walter Ayoví Corozoʼs free-kick was headed past Diego Benaglio to put Ecuador ahead. Swiss probing resulted in corners, but lacking threat, but that changed after half time. Hitzfeld replaced Valentin Stocker with Admir Mehmedi. It paid off almost immediately. Mehmedi benefited from lazy marking by Carlos Gruezo Arboleda at the corner to nod in at close range three minutes into the second half.


The major talking point came on 70 minutes. It was on every level a wretched decision by the referee. He was in perfect position to see that the pass to Josip Drmić deflected off an Ecuadorian defender and when the original pass was made Drmić was onside. The goal should have stood. The replays showed that. Justice was eventually served when Arroyo failed to shoot and the Swiss counter-attack resulted in Seferović grabbing the spoils.