Lionel Messi has showered praise on Emiliano Martinez, labelling his Argentina team-mate a “phenomenon” after he saved three penalties to send the nation to the Copa America final.
Lionel Scaloni’s men were forced to book their ticket at the Maracana for the Copa America showpiece against Brazil via penalties after Colombia halted them 1-1 in normal time, with Lauturo Martinez’s opener being cancelled out on the hour mark by Luis Diaz.
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Colombia progressed to the semis after beating Uruguay on penalties, but they were unable to replicate those sudden-death heroics in Brasilia as Martinez produced saves against Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona.
They have subsequently set up a date in Rio de Janeiro with hosts Brazil on Sunday for continental silverware, with the narrative set to be dominated once again by Messi’s continued search for that ever-elusive international trophy.
The Barcelona legend has made it to the Copa America final on three previous occasions, losing each one, but perhaps the emergence of Martinez as a reliable shot-stopper could swing the momentum in Argentina’s favour, with the Aston Villa man being labelled a “phenomenon” by his team-mate.
“We have Emi, who is a phenomenon,” Messi said after the match.
“We knew that he was going to stop them. We know and trust him. He deserves it.
“We achieved the goal of being able to play all the games and now we are going to the final.”
Scaloni added: “We are very happy with Emiliano’s performance, not only because of the penalties, but also because of the security that he is transmitting.”
Martinez at Villa
Having failed to cement a consistent starting berth at Arsenal during his decade-long stint in north London, Martinez sought regular playing time at Aston Villa last summer, where he has since gone on to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s most competent shot-stoppers.
In 2020/21, Martinez kept 15 clean sheets while producing 142 saves, which placed him exactly third for each category in the English top-flight, sitting just below Ederson (19) and Edouard Mendy (16) for the former, and Sam Johnstone (166) and Aaron Ramsdale (147) for the latter.
At £20m the initial price tag appeared steep for a player who had appeared just 15 times in 10 years for the Gunners in the Premier League, but he has easily trebled that figure in less than 12 months, more than vindicating the heavy sum the Villans couriered to the capital.