Josip Drmic, Marcos Rojo

Messi the hero as playmaker and Di Maria’s extra time goal beats Swiss


After 117 minutes of scoreless soccer, Lionel Messi fed Angel Di Maria, who scored the goal that made the Arena Sao Paolo erupt.

The goal also pushed Argentina to a 1-0 win over Switzerland and a berth in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Argentina will move on to play the winner of the Belgium and United States game, which kicks off at 4pm ET.

A fun, back-and-forth first half between Switzerland and Argentina gave way to a tentative, defensive second as the two sides searched for the goal that could lead them into the quarterfinals.

Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said on Monday that his team would show the way to stop Lionel Messi, and they punished the diminutive superstar with hard tackles and physical play. Messi’s chances were limited, and his team was frustrated.

Hitzfeld was presumably coaching with a heavy heart, as his brother passed away from leukemia hours before the match.

Meanwhile, first half counterattacks probably should’ve lead to goal for the underdogs. Granit Xhaka’s point-blank shot was saved by the foot of Argentine keeper Sergio Romero, while Josep Drmic’s cheeky chip didn’t get the height to soar above the keeper.

Here’s what we were saying at halftime.

In the second half, the chances were lesser. Marcos Rojo’s splendid cross was headed on target by Gonzalo Higuain, but Benaglio was able to tip it over the bar.

Benaglio made a diving stop on Messi in the 77th minute, able to get his right arm on the ball and thwart the shot.

And it was Messi magic again in the 89th minute, as his slaloming run ended with a pass for Palacio that was received poorly and skidded away from danger.

Extra time it would be. Of course.

The first period of extra time did not provide a wealth of prime chances, as the teams continued to beat each other about with hard fouls.

The second featured an early rip by Di Maria that Benaglio pushed over the goal, as Switzerland’s continued attention to Messi opened up some lanes for the Argentines.

With Argentina controlling possession and attack, it felt they were only team that could tally before kicks… and Messi found Di Maria for the goal.

Dzemaili headed a cross off the post in the 121nd minute before pushing the rebound wide with an off-balance touch. That was it for the Swiss.


Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Fede Fernández, Garay, Rojo (Basanta, 105′); Gago (Biglia, 105′), Mascherano, Di María; Lavezzi (Palacio, 73′), Messi, Higuaín

Goals: Di Maria (117′)

Switzerland: Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Djourou, Schaer, Rodriquez; Shaqiri,  Inler,  Xhaka (Fernandes, 64′), Behrami, Mehmedi (Dzemaili, 112′); Drmic (Seferovic, 81′)

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.