Mercurial Messi in top gear at World Cup

Lionel Messi celebrates with Angel Di Maria after he scored in extra time against Switzerland in Sao Paulo. Picture: REUTERS
Lionel Messi celebrates with Angel Di Maria after he scored in extra time against Switzerland in Sao Paulo. Picture: REUTERS


Lionel Messi rescued Argentina once more to help sink Switzerland as the United States' fairytale World Cup run came to an end against Belgium.

Messi set up the winner for Angel Di Maria two minutes from the end of extra-time to give the South Americans a 1-0 victory against the Swiss.

The Argentines will now face Belgium in the quarter-finals in Brasilia on Saturday after they defeated the US 2-1 after another extra time battle.

A phenomenal goalkeeping performance from Tim Howard kept the Belgians at bay to leave the game scoreless after 90 minutes.

The introduction of England-based forward Romelu Lukaku tipped the game in Belgium's favour.

The powerful Chelsea striker's run set up the first for Kevin De Bruyne on 93 minutes before he latched on to a long ball and thumped an unstoppable shot past Howard for the second.

That appeared to settle the game before a superb volleyed goal from 19-year-old substitute Julian Green on 107 minutes gave the US a lifeline.

Only a fantastic save by Thibaut Courtois denied Clint Dempsey what would have been a wonderfully worked equaliser from a quick free kick as Belgium desperately hung on.

The victory takes Belgium into their first World Cup quarter-final for 28 years, when they reached the last four in Mexico only to be knocked out by Diego Maradona's Argentina.

Earlier, Argentina captain Messi bagged his fourth man-of-the-match award in as many games after saving his team once more at Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena.

Di Maria's strike in the 118th minute after a surging counter-attack launched by Messi settled a gritty duel just when penalties seemed inevitable.

The result was cruel for the Swiss, who looked to have done enough to take the game to a shoot-out with a disciplined defensive display that Argentina rarely looked like threatening.

But with two minutes left, Swiss fullback Stephan Lichtsteiner was caught in possession near halfway.

Messi accelerated clear and after hurdling Fabian Schar's attempt to bring him down, slipped a pass to Di Maria who swept the winner past Diego Benaglio.

Messi later admitted his side was affected by nerves as the tension of the occasion got to his team.

"Suffering, suffering that's what I felt, but now we know we can go through times like this," he said.

"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."

The victories meant that all eight winners of the first round groups reached the quarter-finals for the first time.

● Off the pitch, convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal denied any involvement in predicting the result of the Croatia-Cameroon group game, which is being investigated by the African country's federation.

Perumal said in a statement he made an "informal assessment" of the Croatia-Cameroon Group A game after the match. German magazine Der Spiegel, which reported Perumal's comments, said he made them before the match.

"At no time did I make reference to four goals being scored or to a red card being issued," he said. The game finished 4-0.

The Cameroon Football Federation says it is investigating the allegations. FIFA said it would not comment on the allegations because it did not want to influence the Cameroon inquiry. - AFP


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