SAO PAULO: Switzerland’s “Alpine Messi” Xherdan Shaqiri, hot from a hat-trick against Honduras in his last game, meets the real Messi today as the Europeans seek a major World Cup upset when they face Argentina in the last 16.
Shaqiri is the same height as Lionel Messi and has a similar low centre of gravity and, while he has some way to go to match the feats of the prolific Argentina forward, the 22-year-old gives Switzerland a genuine threat up front.
Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said his team would be keeping a close eye on him.
“The (Swiss) are an orderly team who like to play good football and have top players,” he said. “Shaqiri and (forward Haris) Seferovic are in good form and we’re going to have to be very careful.”
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes that by remaining organised his team could make their first quarter-final appearance since they hosted the finals 60 years ago. The Swiss have never beaten Argentina, drawing two games and losing four.
“We are the clear outsiders but we have nothing to lose and much to gain,” he said.
“We can make history. In one game, anything is possible,” added the German coach, who will step down after the World Cup.
Argentina will look for a better all-round performance today.
“Now we can’t make any
mistakes as any error will see us getting knocked out,” Messi warned after Argentina negotiated the group stage.
“There is nothing more beautiful than to be world champion, to achieve that with my country.”
In Argentina’s favour is that more than 100,000 of their fans are expected to flood Sao Paulo ahead of today’s game, including many inside the Corinthians Arena.
But they will have to cope with the loss of Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, who is out with a muscle injury after going off in the first half against Nigeria.
Both Messi and coach Alejandro Sabella acknowledge that Argentina are a work in progress but they will now hope to raise the heat on their slow-burning campaign. “We’ve got nine points (in the group stages), but we can always get better,” Sabella said.
Argentina practise penalties
BELO HORIZONTE: After five misses in the World Cup’s first penalty shootout, Argentina wisely practised spot-kicks on Sunday before flying to Sao Paulo for their last-16 clash with Switzerland.
The South Americans are heavily favoured to beat the Swiss today, but underdogs have been making a mark in Brazil so coach Sabella clearly aims to leave nothing to chance.
Attackers Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria, joined by midfielder Javier Mascherano and defender Martin Demichelis, all practised penalties against
goalkeeper Sergio Romero at their Belo Horizonte training camp.
They were no doubt mindful of Saturday’s drama nearby when five players missed penalties during Brazil’s 3-2 shootout victory over Chile after a 1-1 draw in normal and extra time.
Argentina have been involved in four World Cup penalty shootouts, winning three, against Yugoslavia and Italy in 1990, and England in 1998. They lost against Germany in 2006.
The South Americans are based at local club Atletico Mineiro’s training camp just outside Belo Horizonte.
Blue-and-white motivational banners have been set up around the spacious and heavily-guarded complex. AGENCIES