Last-gasp Angel di Maria hails team effort as Argentina send legendary Swiss coach into retirement
Real Madrid forward seals win in 118th minute as twice Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld confirms this was his last game in the dugout
Associated Press in Sao Paulo
Angel di Maria’s first goal of this World Cup couldn’t have come at a better time for Argentina, or for himself.
Overshadowed by the efforts of captain Lionel Messi, the winger showed his importance to the team on Tuesday and came through when Argentina really needed him.
He scored two minutes before the end of extra time to avoid penalties and secure a 1-0 win over Switzerland that sent La Albiceleste through to the quarter-finals.
Di Maria tried to deflect credit, saying all his teammates were responsible.
“All 23 of us and the technical staff are heroes,” the Real Madrid forward said. “We gave our life. We left our soul on the pitch.”
Before his goal, Di Maria didn’t have the best of matches, giving the ball away a couple of dozen times. But his first-time shot against Switzerland more than made up for his shortcomings at the Sao Paulo Arena.
After receiving a flicked pass from Messi, he struck the ball low to beat Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio at the far post.
Di Maria’s previous highlight of the tournament was hitting the post in Argentina’s 3-2 win over Nigeria in the group stage.
He had a good season for Real Madrid, and among his best moments was providing the assist for the equaliser in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid won 4-1.
Di Maria usually plays on the left wing, but his goal on Tuesday came from the right. Coach Alejandro Sabella said that was the game plan all along, switching Di Maria’s and Ezequiel Lavezzi’s positions.
“We thought that Di Maria and Lavezzi should constantly change positions,” Sabella said.
Struggling, scraping through matches and popping up with late winners has been Argentina’s modus operandi at this World Cup.
Di Maria also has fought to make an impact at the tournament and his frustrations showed last week at a press conference when asked why Argentina weren’t doing so well.
He gave a testy response, saying “I don’t know why you keep saying we weren’t playing well,” and blaming Argentina’s opponents for playing too defensively.
But Di Maria’s goal released that frustration as he celebrated at a corner flag, making a heart with his hands before being mobbed by teammates.
“I dedicate it to my wife and daughter,” he said. “Now we have four days until the next match. We have to continue giving our lives on the pitch.”
WATCH: Angel di Maria's winner for Argentina
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose brother died at age 81 one the eve of the match, said his team leaves the tournament with “our heads high.”
“We made life very tough for them,” he said. “They managed to keep their cool. It shows Argentina has a good team.”
Hitzfeld, who guided German giants Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to Champions League titles, said it was his last match as a football coach. He had earlier said he would quit after the tournament.
His Argentinian counterpart Sabella said he thought his team played a “wonderful match,” though he conceded there’s room for improvement.
“It was a match that we deserved to win,” said Sabella. “The first half was very even. They had two clear chances and after that the match was ours.”
Argentina will play Belgium in the quarter-finals without left back Marcos Rojo, who is suspended after receiving his second yellow card of the tournament on Tuesday.