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Argentina

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An Angel appears for Argentina

SAO PAULO -- "We had to win, and we won. We gave our all on the field and we fought for every ball. We did things right." Ángel di María was the hero of the Argentinian national team in the World Cup round of 16 match against Switzerland. He not only scored the deciding goal in the dying minutes of extra time, but was also the offensive catalyst of his team as he led the attack brilliantly despite his tired legs.

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"Leo [Messi] made a run with the ball, and he is the one who decides who to pass the ball to. I hit the shot to the far post," the Real Madrid player said after the win. Di María was the most outstanding Argentine player on yet another difficult day for the national team, in which they dominated the ball for long periods and controlled the game, but weren't sharp in the final third. Until Ángel appeared.

Di María praised his team's efforts, even though they had a hard time winning a match that seemed easier on paper: "I believe it was a fine all-round performance. We looked at the stats in the locker room and we had 29 shots, 22 on goal."

The former Rosario Central player ran at a speed of 20 mph, and the stats show that he is the third-fastest player in the World Cup. Indeed, this fact says little about his footballing contribution, but at least partially explains his commitment to the cause. Even if he turned to head coach Alejandro Sabella and asked to be replaced in the second period, he seemed to be one of the less-exhausted players on the field in the extra time, as if under no circumstance would he want the match to be decided via a penalty shootout.

"I'm no hero; the heroes are the 23 players and the technical staff. We gave our lives, we knew that all second-round matches were being decided on extra time or by a penalty shootout. We knew it could happen to us. We gave our lives, our souls, we played well," di Maria added during an interview with ESPNFC.com.

Angel di Maria struck late to send Argentina through to the quarterfinals.
Angel di Maria struck late to send Argentina through to the quarterfinals.

Before the game, di María received a rapturous reception from the crowd, as happens in every Argentina match. Messi is the most applauded, and the midfielder comes in a close second. As of Tuesday, he's sure to be one of the most-cherished players in the team.

Additionally, Javier Mascherano praised his goal-scoring teammate: "It's been hard. In the first half we didn't control the game, but after the break we deserved to win. We played, we looked to score, but we lacked a cutting edge. But on the final play of the game Leo and Ángel (di María) appeared, and we scored."

Di María started the match on the left, as usual. In the first few minutes, he caused all sorts of problems for the Swiss defense, which tried to close him down. Afterward, he shifted flanks to cut in from the right on to his stronger left foot, but to little effect. He was unable to pull the strings as a box-to-box midfielder. He even looked uncomfortable, and had to send a rabona cross as he was unable to properly use his weaker foot. He scored with his left foot.

"We clearly deserved to win," said di María, expressing what the Argentinian national team felt. They once again won with a minimal result, but they continue to steadily progress in Brazil 2014.

Damian Didonato

Damian Didonato is an ESPN.com Argentina editor based in Buenos Aires. He covered the U20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011 and blogs on O Blog 2014. Follow him on Twitter @damiandidonato.