Emi Martinez, The Hero, as Argentina Scrape Through on Penalties

Emiliano Martinez after his penalty save (Image: Copa America)

Despite not being at their best, Argentina progressed to the last-four of Copa America via penalties. Emiliano “Dibu” Martinez, the evergreen goalkeeper, was once more the hero. Ecuador deserved to go through for their sheer intent to win, which was lacking in Las Albicelestes.

Whenever a legend of the game is on the verge of retirement, there is a certain spotlight on that player’s performance. For Lionel Messi, this has perhaps been his worst ever run for his national side. Other than his assist to Lautaro Martinez in the opener, nothing significant has come from his boot. A lazy attempt at a Panenka in the first kick of the penalties hit the woodwork. Messi’s penalty misses in shootouts and the Copa America don’t bring many good memories for Argentina fans.

Not much can be discussed about the 90 minutes of the match, other than the fact that Ecuador were the better side on Friday morning. Martinez had to make his first save 15 minutes into the game. Moises Caicedo’s low cross to Jeremy Sarmiento led to a close-range shot by the latter, which was saved by the Argentine goalkeeper with his legs.

In all three games in this Copa America, Argentina have scored all their goals in the second half and have kept a clean sheet. Both records were about to be broken at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. As we mention the stadium, it’s worth noting that the pitch looked poor, which perhaps impacted the players, especially the Argentinians, as most of them are accustomed to playing on much higher standard European pitches.


Argentina broke the deadlock through a corner movement in the 35th minute. Lisandro Martinez scored his first for the national side. Messi’s curling corner from the right was headed on by Mac Allister, finding Martinez, who guided it into the net with a powerful header. The Ecuador goalkeeper, Alexander Dominguez, punched it out, but he was late, and the goal stood. Hard luck for Ecuador, as they were the better side at that time of the match.

Ecuador maintained their hunt for a goal, and Argentina were giving enough space to their opponents. The ball hit the arm of Enzo Fernandez in a corner movement in the 55th minute, but his arm was close enough to his body to avoid being awarded a penalty to Ecuador. Four minutes after this incident, from another Ecuador movement down the left flank, the ball hit Rodrigo de Paul in the arm. Though it also looked pretty close to his body, the penalty was given to Ecuador.

The veteran, Enner Valencia, looked quite tense as he prepared to take the shot. He sent Martinez the wrong way but hit the outside post. It was a lifeline for Argentina, as they seemed to have forgotten that there was no extra time cushion in the Copa America.

Ecuador had to wait long to get their deserved equaliser. John Yeboah curled in a fine cross to Kevin Rodriguez, who got the better of Nicolas Otamendi from 12 yards, and his header reached the far corner and bounced in for the goal.

It was Colombia in the 2021 semi-final, the Netherlands in the Qatar World Cup, and of course the final against France, where Martinez had been the hero in penalties. All hopes were on him as the referee blew the final whistle and the match headed directly to penalties.

Messi looked tense as he walked up to take the first shot. A Panenka is good to see when successful. Advantage went to Ecuador.

Back-to-back heroic saves from Martinez, first a full left stretch dive to save Angel Mina and then a right dive to deny Alan Minda, saw Martinez once again emerge as the hero.

Julian Alvarez, Alexis Mac Allister, Gonzalo Montiel, and Nicolas Otamendi took the other shots for Argentina and scored. It was a wake-up call for Lionel Scaloni and his boys, as luck won’t be this generous against the likes of Brazil or Uruguay in the next rounds.