Argentina are making a habit of scoring late goals, with Lionel Messi at the centre of it time and again. The South Americans, frustrated and repelled by a determined Switzerland rearguard, looked like they were heading into the lottery of a penalty shootout, before a Messi run, unstoppable, even with a Swiss player trying to mow down the little man, inch-perfect pass and a swing of the left boot from Angel Di Maria made those Argentina hearts drop back down from their mouths and sing in ecstasy to the tune of "we are going into the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals."
The last 16 match in Sao Paulo was expected to be a tight affair even before kickoff, and so it proved to be with Switzerland turning out to be an immovable object against the hardly irresistible Argentina force. The Swiss, , who will now bid goodbye to the great Otmar Hitzfeld, could have, and probably should have, easily gone into halftime with a lead, with Josip Drmic and Granit Xhaka missing a couple of wonderful opportunities.
However, Argentina grew a little stronger in the second half, with Messi slowly getting into the game, before that magical run and even better strike in the 118th minute made all of that hard work worthwhile.
Quite a few of the last 16 games gave been cagey to begin with, taking quite a while to warm up, and this was no different, as Argentina failed to find their attacking verve again, while Switzerland looked quite solid as a unit, fairly happy to just contain the favourites initially.
The game took about 25 minutes to get into the "finally we have got some chances" groove, and it was Switzerland who had by far the better opportunities on goal.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who drifted in and out of the game, was the creator for both of those wonderful opportunities, first jinking his way to the right byline, before cutting a cross back to Xhaka, whose low effort from 14 yards was well kept out by the left leg of Sergio Romero.
The second chance was even better, with Switzerland breaking on a quick counter. Fabian Schar, so assured at the back along with Johan Djourou, strode with the ball outside his own box before finding Drmic on the halfway line. The Switzerland striker found Shaqiri, who quickly played the ball back to his teammate. Drmic found himself clear on goal with only Romero to beat, but a cheeky chip attempt only ended up as catching practice for the Argentina goalkeeper.
Argentina had plenty of possession, but rarely threatened, with Ezequiel Lavezzi, in for the injured Sergio Aguero, and Di Maria not troubling Diego Benaglio too much with their strikes, while Ezequiel Garay failed to make contact with a peach of a corner from Di Maria.
Messi was very much a peripheral figure in the first half, unable to make those weaving runs, with Switzerland crowding him out every time he even had a sniff of the ball. Higuain was even more invisible, and the striker might as well not have really been there, with the No.9 unable to make any kind of impact in the first 45.
Higuain would be a little more involved in the second half, however, prompting a nice tip-save from Benaglio off a header. Argentina did step up their attack a little bit in the second 45, with Marcos Rojo, the only other Argentine player to score a goal at this World Cup other than Messi coming into this game, worrying Bengalio a little bit with a drive from the left.
Messi then had an opportunity, as Argentina took control, with the Swiss unable to get out and create a real chance of note of their own. A weak clearance from Switzerland gave Messi possession just outside the box, a perfect position for the Argentina skipper to unleash another one of those magical strikes. He took a good first touch with his chest to bring the ball down, but his shot whistled just over the crossbar, much to the chagrin of the majority Argentine fans.
The captain, a little while later would force a save from Benaglio, who had to move smartly to his right to stop a low drive from Messi, with the Switzerland goalkeeper doing well to stop substitute Rodrigo Palacio, in for Lavezzi, from following up.
Messi did step it up a gear in the final moments of normal time, making those quick runs into the box, but just not a gear big enough to coax that ball into the Switzerland net.
The inevitable extra time took centre-stage, with Switzerland, if anything, looking more like they could carve an opportunity or two, with Shaqiri and Admir Mehmedi pulling a couple of tricks out of their locker to cause a little flutter amongst the Argentines in the first period. The Brazilian crowd roared Switzerland on with every attack as time wound down, clearly wanting their great rivals to crash and burn.
The more Switzerland went forward, though, the more Argentina found space on the counter and Di Maria nearly created a goal right at the end of the first period of extra time, before forcing a wonderful diving save from Benaglio at the beginning of the second 15.
Di Maria was much more involved in the second period of extra time as Argentina, wanting to avoid the penalty shootout, grew more and more desperate.
That desperation turned into ecstasy two minutes from the end, as Messi, after Stefan Lichtsteiner lost the ball on the halfway line, burst forward with searing pace, breaking a couple of tackles, before sliding in a perfectly weighted pass for Di Maria to sweep home from the left channel.
Switzerland nearly pulled one back in amazing fashion a couple of minutes later, but Blerim Dzemaili, an extra time substitute, could only head a right-wing cross onto the post with Romero beaten. And to add insult to injury, the ball rebounded back off the Swiss player to creep inches wide.
The Swiss threw everything at Argentina, including goalkeeper Benaglio in the last minutes, but as Shaqiri blazed his freekick from just outside the box into the wall, pandemonium reigned amongst the Argentine ranks, with Switzerland and the Brazil fans, hoping for a mega upset, left to lick their wounds.