The mind games of Argentina's dancing hero Martinez

Published on: 22 June 2023

All the talk before Sunday's incredible World Cup final between Argentina and France was understandably about Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, but by the end, another name was on everyone's lips - Emiliano Martinez.

After an enthralling, twisting, turning and emotionally draining 120 minutes and the game level at 3-3, penalties were needed to determine who would lift football's greatest prize.

While Argentina's takers did their job by calmly converting all four of their spot-kicks, Martinez stepped up to break French hearts.

Mbappe had scored two penalties in the game so there was little surprise he converted France's first of the shootout, although Martinez was not far off getting a hand to it.

From then on, though, the Aston Villa goalkeeper took centre stage.

He went the right way again to deny Kingsley Coman, before the mind games were ramped up to further unsettle the French players.

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As Aurelien Tchouameni walked up for his turn, perhaps already feeling the weight of expectation, Martinez rolled the ball away from the Real Madrid midfielder, forcing him to have to walk over to collect it.

There is a word for such antics by Martinez that can't be stated here, but they had the desired effect as the 22-year-old Tchouameni dragged his penalty wide, prompting a dance reminiscent of Alan Pardew's mesmerising moves in Crystal Palace's 2016 FA Cup final against Manchester United.

Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman's penalty in the shootout against FranceHe then channelled his inner Alan Pardew with a little dance after Aurelien Tchouameni swept his penalty wide

That put Argentina within touching distance of a first World Cup since 1986 and, although Randal Kolo Muani fired home France's next penalty, it only delayed the celebrations from the South Americans as substitute Gonzalo Montiel scored to kick off the party.

"Emi Martinez is a very positive guy and told his team-mates he was going to save some penalties," revealed Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni.

BBC Sport's pundits at the game were all in agreement too that Martinez's antics played a huge part in the victory.

"There is no doubt he had a massive impact mentally in the shootout," said former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas.

Ex-England striker Alan Shearer added: "He was trying to wind them up, he was kicking the ball away, he was talking to the players, he was putting as much pressure as possible on them."

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand said: "Even his movements behind the line, he was moving, trying to catch the eye of the person striking the ball."

Emiliano Martinez helped Argentina keep clean sheets against Mexico, Poland and Croatia at the World Cup

The game may have not even got to a shootout if not for a brilliant save by Martinez in the final seconds of extra time.

Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate hit the ball forward and Muani raced through, only to be denied by Martinez who rushed out to close down the gap before spreading himself out to block the finish.

It was one of a number of big saves Martinez made in Qatar, earning him the tournament's Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets with three.

He has certainly had a big impact in his short time with the national team. Since making his debut last year he has helped Argentina win the Copa America and now the World Cup.

He has had to be patient for his career to kick off. Martinez spent eight years at Arsenal, going out on loan six times and playing just 11 Premier League games for the Gunners, before joining Villa two years ago and growing in stature.

"I have no words for it. I was calm during the penalty shootout and everything went as we wanted," Martinez said after Sunday's final.

"All that I have dreamed of has been achieved."

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