As Argentina progressed to the Copa America final by defeating Colombia, Lionel Messi played a great game. Lautaro Martinez scored the goal, and the defence did just enough to survive. But only one player is the hero of this semi-final tie for Argentina: Emiliano Martinez.
After having a solid game, the keeper went on to stunningly save three penalties in the shootout to ensure his team came away with the win. The saves were impressive enough, but the way he dominated the mental aspect of the shootout was perhaps even more so. With this incredible performance, he has formally introduced himself on the international stage to a nation that perhaps didn’t know so much about him going in.
How Emiliano Martinez Has Inscribed Himself Into Argentine History
Martinez Mastered the Mind Games
Heading into the penalty shootout, one side seemed to have the mental high ground. Colombia had overcome Uruguay on penalties just four days earlier, and buoyed by that confidence, fancied their chances against anyone.
Conversely, Argentina, who let a 1-0 lead slip away, would have been wary of their last two Copa America shootouts, both final losses to Chile, including Messi’s infamous miss in 2016. Colombia were animated in the huddle, ready to go to war, while Argentine players had their heads down, seemingly fearing yet another similar exit.
After Colombia star Juan Cuadrado’s shot narrowly escaped his fingertips, it was Messi’s turn to shoot. With an entire country holding its breath, the 34-year-old smashed it into the top corner, then turned around and went to his keeper to give him confidence. And then the Martinez show began.
Up stepped centre-back Davinson Sanchez to take his kick. Martinez had done his research on him. He knew that Sanchez liked to look at the keeper and wait for him to make the first move before taking the kick. First, the keeper taunted the defender during his run-up, mocking him in Spanish. Then, just before he was about to shoot, Martinez did a quick feint to his right-hand side.
It was subtle enough to be able to change direction quickly but noticeable enough for the Colombian to read his movement and fall for his bluff. Immediately, Sanchez went left, and he anticipated and made an excellent save. But then, after Rodrigo De Paul’s miss, came his real moment of magic.
Emiliano Martinez v Yerry Mina: Arguably the Greatest Trash Talk in Football History
While not having fans in the stadium is a curse we all hope ends soon, a silver lining to it could be that we get to hear the players talk amongst themselves. And the way Martinez vanquished Mina was a masterpiece.
It’s important to note that these two have history. Just three weeks earlier, when they faced off in a World Cup qualifier, Mina barreled into Martinez with his elbow raised, sending him to the ground and knocking him unconscious. He received a yellow, but there’s a clear argument to say it should’ve been more.
Miraculously, despite being carted off on a stretcher, he was available to play less than a week later to start the tournament. So when Mina stepped up to take his kick, the shot-stopper knew this was his moment.
As soon as he approached the penalty area, Martinez shouted: “you’re nervous, huh, you’re laughing but I can see you’re nervous.” Mina just brushed it off with a smile.
When he placed the ball down, the keeper remarked, “the ball is ahead of the penalty spot” as Mina shrugged him off and had some words for Martinez, to which he replied, “yeah, yeah, pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, I already know you.” Again, Mina just smiled, seemingly unbothered.
As he began his run-up, Martinez went at him again: “Watch how I know where you’re shooting and I’ll save it. Watch how I eat you up, brother.” And then one more time for good measure, as Mina shoots, “watch how I eat you up, brother.”
The key here is that every footballer has a penalty routine, professional or otherwise. By constantly talking to him, distracting him, subtly insulting him, he was unbalancing Mina, knocking him off his game. It made the Colombian less focused, and when you lose focus, you slip.
After all that talk, Martinez really had to back it up and show his ability, and that he did, foiling Mina as he went to the keeper’s left. After his moment of brilliance, he got up, and as confident as he was, displayed the same exuberant celebration that his compatriot Diego Simeone famously performed against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus in 2019.
The only difference is, Simeone’s exuberance came back to bite him, as Ronaldo engineered a spectacular 3-0 comeback. Emiliano Martinez went onto dust himself off, and after an unstoppable penalty from Miguel Borja, saved yet again from Edwin Cardona to win the shootout for Argentina.
Martinez Provides an Unforgettable Moment for Argentina
All in all, this game will be known as the day Emiliano Martinez stepped out of his shadow, into the limelight, and announced himself to the world for Argentina.
The man who spent many years at Arsenal as a hidden figure, being sent out on loan six times in ten years, had to become a hero. It was his moment, in just his sixth cap for his country, and to say he delivered is an understatement.
He not only saved three penalties, which is impressive enough, but he provided a clear example of how to dominate a shootout. He showed that penalties aren’t just dumb luck, as many like to say, and that preparation more often than not leads to success.
“We have Emi, who is a phenomenon,” Messi said after the game. “We knew that he was going to stop them, we know and trust him. He deserves it.”
Messi himself had some words for Mina as well, comically shouting at him “dance, dance now”, in response to the centre-back dancing in longtime friend Luis Suarez’s face after beating Uruguay.
But Messi’s trash talk was reactionary, whereas Martinez’s was in the buildup, and had a direct effect on the result of the kick. In undoubtedly the biggest game of his career, facing elimination, he gave his country life, and they’re heading to the final in Rio because of that.
If Argentina do wind up winning the final, the headlines will most certainly, and rightly so, be on Messi winning his first international trophy. But spare a thought for Emiliano Martinez, because Argentina wouldn’t be here without him.
Embed from Getty Images