World Cup drama remained alive Tuesday in Brazil, with Argentina and Belgium winning in extra time to advance to the quarterfinals.
It was the final day of competition in the opening round of the knockout stage, in which five of the eight contests were decided in extra time.
Argentina beat Switzerland in Sao Paulo, 1-0, after breaking through in the 118th minute. Superstar striker Lionel Messi set up the winner with a pass to the right of the box to Angel Di Maria, who blasted it into the corner of the net.
Switzerland had a free kick from the top of the box in the waning moments, but it was blocked by the Argentine wall.
The two teams waged a tight, scoreless battle through regulation and nearly all of extra time. The Argentines thought in advance that the game would be decided following the first 90 minutes, according to Di Maria.
“We know that this could happen to us, but we gave our souls out there on the pitch, we fought with our lives for each ball, and we ended up as the winners,” Di Maria said.
Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld praised Argentina, which has won all four of its matches in this year’s World Cup.
“We made life very tough on them,” Hitzfeld said. “They kept their cool. It shows Argentina has a good team.”
Argentina will now meet Belgium in the quarterfinals. The game is a rematch of their 1986 World Cup semifinal match, when Argentina beat Belgium, 2-0, and went on to win the World Cup led by the legendary Diego Maradona. It is the last time the Argentines captured the championship.
In Salvador Tuesday, Belgium took a 2-0 lead in extra time and held on to eliminate the United States, 2-1.
US Goalie Phenomenal
The Belgians applied relentless pressure on U.S. goalie Tim Howard all game. Howard responded by putting forth one of the greatest efforts by a goalie in World Cup history with 16 saves.
But Belgium beat him in the third minute of extra time when Kevin De Bruyne scored following a pass from substitute Romelu Kukaku. A few minutes later, De Bruyne returned the favor with a pass to Kukaku, whose goal gave Belgium a 2-0 edge.
The U.S. did not fold. Forward Julian Green scored in the 107th minute to create a 2-1 game, becoming at age 19 one of the youngest players ever to score in the World Cup. Sparked by Green’s goal, the Americans generated other good scoring opportunities as the clock wound down. Belgian goalie Thibaut Courtois, one of the best in the world, made an excellent save on Clint Dempsey to prevent the game from going into a penalty shootout.
The U.S. had a chance to win in stoppage time, but forward Chris Wondolowski sent a point-blank shot over the cross bar.
Afterward, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann described Howard’s performance as “phenomenal.”
“He had an absolutely amazing match, you can give him the biggest compliments in the world,” Klinsmann said. “He kept us in the game over the 120 minutes.”
The Americans were hoping to get a boost from star forward Jozy Altidore, who suffered a hamstring injury in the team’s opening win against Ghana and was medically cleared to play Tuesday. But Altidore did not play against the Belgians. Against Belgium, the U.S. also lost standout Fabian Johnson to a hamstring injury.
All of the quarterfinal matchups are now set. On Friday, France takes on Germany in Rio de Janeiro and Colombia faces Brazil in Fortaleza. On Saturday in Salvador, surprising Costa Rica plays the Netherlands, the 2010 runner-up, and Argentina plays Belgium in Brasilia.
Brazil, the consensus favorite to win it all, is seeking an unprecedented sixth World Cup championship.