FIFA World Cup Preview: Argentina v Switzerland
By Football News
Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio are vying to deputise for Sergio Aguero in Argentina's FIFA World Cup last-16 clash with Switzerland.
The Manchester City forward limped out of the action before half-time on Wednesday as Argentina maintained their 100 per cent record in the competition with an entertaining 3-2 Group F win over Nigeria.
A first-degree muscle strain in his left thigh means initial fears over the 26-year-old's participation in the rest of the tournament were wide of the mark, but Tuesday's game against Ottmar Hitzfeld's team comes too soon.
Coach Alejandro Sabella is at least well stocked in terms of attacking reserves.
Paris Saint-Germain's Lavezzi replaced Aguero versus Nigeria and is now well placed to start in Sao Paulo, while Inter forward Palacio provides an alternative option.
"Lavezzi has many chances to play against Switzerland," said Sabella's assistant Claudio Gugnali. "He is a very powerful player and he is in great form at the moment.
"He had a great season with his club. When asked to play, I'm sure he will know how to exploit (his opportunity)."
If Lavezzi does start, he will join Lionel Messi in attack as the Barcelona superstar revels in his role on football's biggest stage.
Having scored the decisive goals in wins over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, Messi notched a brace last time out and has Argentina fans dreaming that he can emulate the feats of Diego Maradona in 1986 by inspiring the country to World Cup glory.
The 27-year-old also has happy memories of this fixture, having netted a hat-trick to secure a 3-1 February 2012 friendly victory in Bern.
"Messi is one of heck of a player. He's blessed. You can't take it away from him," said Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi after watching the forward in full flight. "There are good calibre players in the team but Messi is from Jupiter."
The man aiming to bring Messi and Argentina back down to earth is veteran coach Hitzfeld, in a tournament that is set to be the curtain call on a phenomenal managerial career.
Victory on Tuesday would see Switzerland into the last eight of the World Cup for the first time since they hosted the finals in 1954, guaranteeing the German a place in the history books of Swiss football.
Midfielder Granit Xhaka, who scored in the 5-2 defeat by France during the group stage, is part of the 'golden generation' put together by Hitzfeld and he is relishing the chance to test himself against the superstars of Argentina.
Much has been expected of Switzerland after their dominant performance in qualifying, and ruthlessness in the group stages to beat Ecuador and Honduras so convincingly, but the 21-year-old says they head into this game without any weight of expectation.
"Argentina are indeed favourites," he told Bild. "But that also means that we've got nothing left to lose now.
"Against Argentina with Messi everything is possible.
"We will do all we can to survive against Argentina. It's only one match and everything is possible!"