By CARL SETTERLUND
With the legacy of the Lionel Messi era on the line, Argentina was pushed to the limit by tiny Switzerland, but for a second straight game the Argentines found a goal in the closing moments, beating the Swiss Tuesday, 1-0, in extra time in São Paulo.
The ultra talented Argentines peppered the Swiss with 27 shots before breaking through, but after an up-and-down overtime, the class of Messi and Ángel di María finally won out.
With all eyes on Messi, the superstar passed up a shot from the edge of the box and laid it off to di María making a run in from the right sideline to net the winner in the 118th minute.
Gonzalo Higuaín provided a buffer between Di Maria and the closest Swiss defender, Ricardo Rodríguez, and di María opened his body to send a low left-footed inside the far left post beyond the goalie Diego Benaglio.
It was the second latest match winner in the history of the World Cup, with the La Albiceleste breathing a sigh of relief as they avoided the uncertainty of penalty kicks.
To add on to the heartbreak for the Swiss, they had a golden opportunity to level the score, but a header by Blerim Dzemaili went off the woodwork in the 121st minute.
Xherdan Shaqiri served in a right side cross to the far post where Dzemaili got loose to send a close range chance off the left post, back off his shin and out of bounds.
Argentina moves on to play the winner of this afternoon’s Round of 16 match between the United States and Belgium at noon Saturday at Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.
La Albiceleste have now advanced to the quarterfinal round in four out of the last five World Cups, but they haven’t gone any further than that since the glory days of Diego Maradona.
Switzerland was thwarted again in its attempt to make a first ever World Cup quarterfinal. The Swiss also stalled out in the Round of 16 in 2006 and 1994.
It was an accomplishment for Switzerland to hold Argentina scoreless for as long as it did, as the latter put an incredible 22 shots on target, including 10 by di María. The Swiss defense managed to block 13 of them, while Benaglio made eight saves in a strong performance in net.
Messi played distributor much of the game, but forced a save by Benaglio on a low shot aimed at the left side of goal in the 78th minute. Rodrigo Palacio closed on the rebound, but the defense was able to clear it away from danger.
Benaglio kept Switzerland alive again in the 109th minute, diving to save a long volley by di María that looked likely to sneak inside the upper right 90.
At the other end, Argentine keeper Sergio Romero made four saves in the shutout.