World Cup: Di Maria brings Hitzfeld career to a cruel end

Frank Dalleres
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(After extra time)

ARGENTINA coach Alejandro Sabella admitted he was delighted to avoid a penalty shoot-out after Angel di Maria’s dramatic late intervention swept his team into the World Cup quarter-finals.

Real Madrid winger Di Maria made amends for a sub-par display with the winning goal in the 118th minute, booking the widely tipped South Americans a clash against Belgium on Saturday.

“It was in 1998 when I was an assistant coach that we had to go through penalty kicks against England, but fortunately we could avoid that this time,” he said. “We put in a great effort and got a just reward for it. After the interval, we started to show our credentials and we deserved to win.”

Switzerland boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, who had previously announced his intention to retire following the tournament, said the manner of defeat gave him flashbacks to the 1999 Champions League final, when two late goals from Manchester United stunned his Bayern Munich side.

Switzerland started the stronger, Granit Xhaka forced a low save from Sergio Romero and then Josip Drmic wasted a one-on-one by tamely chipping into the goalkeeper’s hands.

Argentina’s array of attacking talent could muster only sporadic threats, such as Gonzalo Higuain’s header and Lionel Messi’s low shot through a crowded penalty box – both saved by Diego Benaglio.

Di Maria went closest in the second period of extra-time when his top-corner bound effort prompted Benaglio to tip over. But the Wolfsburg stopper could not deny him in the dying seconds when Messi ran at the defence and fed a delicately-weighted pass for Di Maria to stroke past him into the far corner.

There was still time for Switzerland to come within inches of equalising, when Blerim Dzemaili headed against a post. The ball rebounded to the substitute but he could not prevent it ricocheting off his shin and wide.