Martinez the “Penalty Hero” Once Again

by Ben Ayuko

{image by Getty Images}

Argentina faced a stern test when they came up against a determined Ecuador side. Argentina, fresh off attaining the Holy Grail of international, if not World, football, were looking to maintain their course and progress into the final stages of yet another major tournament. Ecuador, however, fresh off of topping their group with maximum points were not going to just lie down for Messi and co. to do as they please.

It was a first half effort from Manchester United Centre back, Lautaro Martinez, that gave Argentina the lead deep into the first half as Ecuador had trouble dealing with a corner kick, allowing Martinez to sneak in at the back post for a relatively easy tap in. Heading into the halftime break with the lead, the ball was firmly in Argentina’s court.

Ecuador came out flying in the second half and really took the game to Argentina. Their efforts granted them a chance to equalize from the penalty spot, in the 61st minute, after Rodrigo de Paul was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty box. Up stepped captain Enner Valencia and though he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, his effort could only bounce back off the post.

They kept pushing and pushing and only in the 1st minute of injury time (90+1) did their efforts bear any fruit, substitute Kevin Rodriguez rising highest to nod goalwards after a cross came in from the right-hand side. Onto penalties then, where the most unexpected thing happened.

Captain Lionel Messi stepped up to take the first penalty. Leading his country by example. Obviously, a formality for one of football’s most prolific goal scorers. It was a shock then to see him attempt a “Panenka” penalty- where you chip the ball down the middle in mockery of your opponent. What was even more shocking than seeing him attempt such an audacious move in such a tense situation, was seeing his effort casually rebound off the cross bar and bounce straight back into his arms. Immediately one of the highlights of the game. Lucky for him, goalkeeper Emi Martinez was in one of his moods again, saving 2 Ecuadorian penalties before dancing in front of the crowd. With all other penalties converted it left veteran Nicolás Otamendi with the task of sealing the victory, which he did.

Argentina won the shootout, and the game by extension, booking their place in the Copa América semi-finals.

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