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Argentina’s Penalty Shootout Victory Over Ecuador: Three Things We Learnt

Lionel Messi misses penalty for Argentina

On Thursday night, holders Argentina kept alive their hopes of retaining the Copa América by beating Ecuador in a penalty shootout at NRG Stadium.

The tie finished 1-1 after 90 minutes in Houston, with Lisandro Martínez heading la Albiceleste in front just before half time, only for la Tri to equalise in the dying embers of injury time so, with CONMEBOL having abolished extra time, aside from in the final, straight to penalties we went.

Lionel Messi stepped up first but, as he attempted an audacious Panenka, the ball caressed against the crossbar, leaving the 70,000-capacity crowd stunned into silence.

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However, there’s never anything to worry about when you’re in a penalty shootout and Emi Martínez is your goalkeeper, with the Aston Villa shot-stopper denying both of Ecuador’s first two takers, namely Ángel Mena and Alan Minda.

Julián Álvarez, Alexis Mac Allister and Gonzalo Montiel all then converted for the World Champions meaning, by the time Nicolás Otamendi found the bottom corner, this saw la Albiceleste secure their spot in the semis, set to face Canada or Venezuela at MetLife Stadium on Tuesday.

So, here’s three things we learnt about Argentina on an eventful night in Texas.

Top Three Takeaways From Argentina vs Ecuador

Emi Martínez remains the shootout king

As alluded to earlier, Martínez is simply unbeatable when it comes to penalty shootouts, winning all six he has featured in during his senior career.

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At club level, he helped Arsenal beat Liverpool in the 2020 FA Community Shield while, back in April, he made two stops as Aston Villa defeated LOSC Lille in the UEFA Europa Conference League quarter-finals at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

For his country is where he’s especially thrived, he was key as la Albiceleste have beaten Colombia in the Copa América semis in Brasília and then both Netherlands and France at the most recent World Cup, these quarter-finals and the final itself respectively, before he was up to his old tricks again in Texas, with Ecuador his latest victims.

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Across these six shootouts, he’s made nine saves and conceded only 14 times, which aren’t bad statistics considering, on average, around 80% of penalties are scored.

Enner Valencia also missed a spot-kick during normal time, albeit he hit the post, making Martínez contribution hard to quantify, albeit he has made eight saves during this tournament so far, taking his post-shot xG for the competition up to 1.4.

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If Argentina are involved in another shootout either at this Copa América or beyond, they will be favourites to win it, simply due to Martínez’s mere presence.

Will Lionel Scaloni Continue to Show Faith in Lautaro Martínez?

Lautaro Martínez was the star of the group stages, scoring four times, becoming the first player to net in all three group games at a Copa América since both Víctor Aristizábal and Paulo Wanchope achieved this in 2001.

The Inter striker came off the bench to net against both Canada and Chile, before starting the dead-rubber clash with Peru in Miami Gardens, in which he scored twice.

This earned him the starting spot for Thursday night’s crucial quarter-final but he didn’t last long, hooked after little over an hour, replaced by Julián Álvarez, who had started the competition as first-choice.

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Scaloni feels as though Álvarez fits better into this side, specifically that he is a better foil for Lionel Messi, more on him shortly, but the Inter striker’s goal-scoring exploits, for both club and country, made his form impossible to ignore.

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Well, when the team sheets are released in East Rutherford at around 7pm ET on Tuesday night, it’ll be fascinating to see whether it will be Álvarez or Martinez spearheading the attack from the start.

Lionel Messi is not fully fit

One player who will certainly be in the line-up is Messi although, concerningly, he was largely a peripheral figure in the quarter-final, touching the ball only 29 times, a tally bettered by nine of his teammates.

Messi had sat out the clash with Peru last weekend as a precaution due to a slight injury, but very little was made of this, considering Argentina had already, to all intents and purposes, topped the group, before the AFA announced he had taken part in full training on Wednesday.

While that may have been the case, it was clear for all to see that the Inter Miami man was not at his best in the Lone Star State, having no discernible impact on the game, well until his shootout miss, which is not in keeping with how magical he had been earlier in the competition.

If Argentina are going to beat one of Uruguay, Brazil or Colombia in the final on 14 July, they’ll need their talisman to be fully fit and firing.


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