Another moment of magic from Messi
Argentina skipper sets up di Maria winner to add to his heroics against Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria
ROUND OF 16
(Angel di Maria 118)
- After extra time
Lionel Messi moves a step closer. The World Cup can wait for now, but greatness is already within his grasp.
The little one will live on in our collective memories of Brazil 2014.
Other players performed, but only Maradona owns Mexico '86. His talent trademarked the tournament.
Zidane just about stole away with France '98 and 2002 proved to be an odyssey for Ronaldo.
When we think of what has transpired so far in this indelible World Cup, we think of Messi.
Contests against minnows are not the truest measure of a sportsman. They are often exhibitions to satisfy statisticians; one-sided showcases to rack up scores and assists.
Miroslav Klose's headed hat-trick against Saudi Arabia in 2002 boosted his goal tally, but not necessarily his reputation.
Individual moments make sporting immortals. It's a moment that can neither be replicated nor repeated; a moment that is both fleeting and timeless.
Many players have memorable games. But Messi wins them. While others toil in desperation as the seconds tick away, Messi stops the clock.
At this World Cup, he is building up a series of seconds that will last forever.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria and now Switzerland this morning (Singapore time), each witnessed a sudden, dramatic swish of his brush.
At first glance, they seem little more than lazy paint daubs from an unproductive artist.
But then, you step back and examine the brushstrokes in their entirety; take in the breadth and depth of the canvas and all its captivating colours and realise that Messi is creating his definitive masterpiece - one artistic flourish at a time.
Argentina had laboured against Switzerland. Not for the first time at this World Cup, Messi was inhibited by an overbearing shadow and lacked support. Like Neymar now and Maradona then, he is a unique artist among industrious artisans.
But the South Americans had a collective off day. They tried. But they tried the patience more. Their Round-of-16 ride was littered with dead-ends, wrong turns and the omnipresent threat of a broken dream.
They needed a moment. They needed their magician.
In the 118th minute, substitute Rodrigo Palacio's fresher legs released Messi.
Before he received the ball, he was already painting pictures; images of impending moves, a fail-safe route to goal.
He was drifting sideways before he even collected. He killed the pace instantly, defiantly, bending the ball and the game's pace to his will, and he glided away.
He floated, his feet barely touching the turf. He pecked away furiously as he accelerated; Woody Woodpecker meets Roadrunner. He cleared a desperate, lunging challenge, combining the power of an Olympic hurdler with the grace of a ballerina.
The next moment encapsulated his genius.
Back-pedalling Swiss defenders panicked. Their internal clocks were ticking. They could almost visualise the welcoming lottery of a penalty shootout. They retreated scruffily and conceded space.
The strike was on. Others would have taken a desperate punt on personal glory. Neymar would have almost certainly taken the shot.
But Messi waited. He shapes his environment, never the other way round. He released Angel di Maria with an exquisitely weighted pass and Argentina were on their way to the quarter-finals.
Messi had been mediocre for 118 minutes. The Swiss never took their eyes off him. They watched and anticipated every move and trick.
But a true magician works in milliseconds. His sleight of foot is second only to his thought process.
Messi needs only a moment to fool the most observant of audiences. Against Switzerland this morning, he took it.
He's still shaking up the world. And he's fast becoming the greatest.
Argentina have been on the winning side in six of their seven World Cup games that have gone to extra time.
Messi: Make the most of our 'luck'
LEAVING IT LATE: Two minutes before the dreaded penalty shootout, Argentina finally break the deadlock. Drawing on reserves of energy that no human being should have, Lionel Messi summons up a final burst of pace, slips the ball to Angel di Maria on the right of the penalty box, and the Real Madrid winger hits it first time into the right-hand corner of Diego Benaglio’s goal to end the Swiss’ hopes. TNP GRAPHICS: BILLY KER
Lionel Messi admitted that he was as nervous as anyone during Argentina's "lucky" 1-0 win over Switzerland in the last 16 this morning (Singapore time), but urged his team to make the most of their reprieve.
The captain and talisman finally prised open the Swiss defence deep into extra time in Sao Paulo, two minutes from the penalty shootout, and picked out Angel di Maria for the game's only goal.
Messi said that the nail-biting win, in front of tens of thousands of Argentine fans, could stand his team in good stead later in the tournament.
"Suffering - that's what I felt, but now we know we can go through times like this," said Messi.
"We were lucky. We had luck on our side and now we have to take advantage of it and move on."
Argentina will now take on Belgium in the quarter-finals on Saturday as they go for their third World Cup title, on the soil of arch-rivals Brazil.
"Just like everyone else, I imagine, at times I was nervous because we couldn't score a goal and any mistake would have put us out of the World Cup," Messi said.
"We didn't want penalties, so we wanted to win it in extra time.
"For the goal, I thought maybe I should take a chance.
"And then I saw Angel on the right and I passed to him and, fortunately, we were able to score."
The Barcelona star was named Man of the Match for the fourth successive time by online voters, ahead of di Maria who had 10 shots on target - more than the entire Swiss team.
"I don't know whether I deserve this one (award) or not," said Messi.
"But what's important is that we've made it to the next stage, which is what we wanted." - AFP.
We gave everything out there. We left our heart and soul on the pitch. We were always in the game and we never gave up for a minute.
— Argentina’s match-winner Angel di Maria