RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The World Cup still has Lionel Messi. Tim Howard is heading home despite a heroic display of goalkeeping.
A moment of Messi inspiration helped lift an unconvincing Argentina to a 1-0 win over Switzerland after extra time in the Round of 16 on Tuesday, creating the goal scored by Angel Di Maria in the 118th minute.
Howard’s stunning shot-stopping performance could not stop the Americans falling to a 2-1 extra-time loss against favoured Belgium that had a pulsating finale. The veteran ’keeper repelled most of Belgium’s 27 shots on target but was finally beaten by Kevin De Bruyne in the 93rd and substitute Romelu Lukaku in the 105th.
“He had an absolutely amazing match tonight and you just have to give him the biggest compliments in the world,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
Teenager Julian Green’s 107th-minute goal sparked concerted American pressure but they could not find a leveler to force a penalty shootout.
Argentina now faces Belgium in a quarterfinals lineup that is a sweep of the eight group winners. They start Friday with France vs. Germany in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Anticipation was soured a little Tuesday by fixing allegations from earlier matches at the World Cup. Cameroon’s football federation said it would investigate after the team’s integrity was questioned by a German magazine. Der Spiegel claimed convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal correctly predicted in online exchanges with a reporter that Cameroon would lose 4-0 to Croatia and a player would be sent off before halftime.
“Yes, I have been told about this but let them do their work on this investigation,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter told reporters in Brazil on Tuesday.
Howard’s heroics in goal topped Messi in the doubleheader which closed second round. After Messi scored in each of Argentina’s three group matches, Switzerland almost made good on its promise to shut down the four-time FIFA player of the year. The Swiss certainly had the best first-half chances in Sao Paulo, created by their own mini-Messi, the equally tiny, powerful and left-footed forward Xherdan Shaqiri.
First, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero stretched his left foot to block Granit Xhaka’s low shot, then stood up to gather a weak chipped shot by Josip Drmic.
“They had two clear chances and after that the match was ours,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said.
When Messi threatened, his scything volley skimmed over the Swiss crossbar and a low shot was parried by ’keeper Diego Benaglio. A shootout loomed until Messi broke free of pursuing Swiss defenders. He found Di Maria on the left side of the penalty box for a sweeping left-foot shot beyond Benaglio’s dive.