Argentina have seemed like a one-man team in Brazil, with Lionel Messi almost single-handedly helping his teammates into the second round.
Now that striker Sergio Aguero has been ruled out with a thigh strain, coach Alejandro Sabella is expected to turn to Ezequiel Lavezzi to sharpen the
attack and hopefully ease some of the pressure on Messi.
(L) Lionel Messi heads the ball during a training session at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo. (Reuters photo); Switzerland midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri tests his trusted left foot during training before the key clash.(AFP Photo)
“Everybody said we would score loads of goals in the group stage and it’s clear that didn’t happen,” midfielder Maxi Rodriguez said.
Switzerland know what to expect. They will have to produce their best defensive performance of the tournament, especially with more than 100,000 Argentine fans expected to besiege Sao Paulo.
“I think any defence will face problems when facing Messi, and problems are there to be solved,” the team's German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said on Monday. "How to stop Messi? We will show you tomorrow how we do it.”
Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri, who has earned the nickname “the Alpine Messi”, will be driving the Swiss forward. A win would equal Switzerland's biggest football achievement to date — a place in the quarter-finals in 1954.
Switzerland have never beaten Argentina at the World Cup in six previous attempts.
Sabella compares Messi's leadership to Maradona's
Messi' s fantastic form in Brazil proves he is as important as legend Diego Maradona for Argentina, according to coach Sabella.
Messi, the four-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner, has scored four of the team's six goals to take Argentina into the last 16 with a three-match winning streak.
That reminds Sabella of the time when Maradona led the La Albiceleste to win the World Cup in 1986.
"Maradona was a very important player to Argentina in 1986, and Messi is very important to us now," said Sabella.
"I am not surprised by his performance. His teammates and all Argentines expected he will have a great World Cup this time."
Sabella, however, is wary of mistakes because even a tiny one can put his star-studded team out of the tournament.
"You can make a mistake in the group stage, but it will be more difficult in the last 16, mistakes are not acceptable at this stage of a World Cup.”
Sabella did not reveal details of his starting lineup, but believes Paris Saint-Germain forward Lavezzi, who replaced the injured Aguero in the last match, can play an important role.
"He hasn't been in the starting lineup since we came here, but he is always supporting the team without negative comments. I think he can play right and left wings as a striker or midfielder and that means we can switch the system from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 during the game," he told reporters on Monday.
Swiss coach has faith in defenders to solve Messi problem
Hitzfeld anticipates Messi will cause great trouble for his team, but he also believes his defenders can find a way to "solve the problem".
"Actually, any defence can have problems when facing Messi. But all problems are there to be solved. I trust my defenders as well as all my other players," said Hitzfeld during a pre-match news conference on Monday.
Switzerland are known for their stable performance at back, conceding only six goals in 10 matches to finish on top of their qualifying group.
But in Brazil the Swiss defending line have not been performing well, conceding six goals in three matches en route to finishing second in Group E including a 2-5 defeat to France.
"Our performance has improved since we arrived in Brazil. The five goals to France woke us. It was like a wakeup call and helped us recover in the match against Honduras," said the 65-year-old German.
"Argentina are two-time world champions. Playing against Argentina is a huge challenge. You can feel the tension in the players. This is something really fantastic to be able to face Argentina. We look forward to this game."
Hitzfeld took over as coach of the Swiss national team in summer 2008.
Switzerland finished top of its qualifying group to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where they were eliminated after the group stage. It is the first time for Hitzfeld to guide a team into the knockout rounds in World Cup.
"This is already a dream come true. And it will be a great moment in my career. This is also the time for the Swiss football to write a page of history," Hitzfeld said.
Switzerland have contested in nine FIFA World Cup finals before and reached the last eight three times.
Venue: Arena de Sao Paulo
Kickoff: 1 pm local time (9.30pm in India; noon New York; 5 pm London; 1 am Tokyo)
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