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Emiliano Martinez: The best penalty shootout goalkeeper of all time?

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Argentina won their third FIFA World Cup trophy in the Qatar tournament of 2022 as Lionel Messi finally got his hands on the one trophy that has consistently alluded him. However, it was far from a one-man task: La Albiceleste’s entire team fought for their lives on a number of occasions.

In the quarter-final and the grand final, Argentina had to play 120 minutes against the Netherlands and France. In both fixtures, they had given up two-goal advantages in the late stages, and many players would have lacked the mentality to fight again, with the knowledge that what seemed to be a comfortable win had quickly changed to a narrow battle once again. But Argentina managed to take both of their opponents to a penalty shootout and it was there that Emiliano Martinez’s brilliance came out on top.

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The difference maker

Martinez was the difference maker as Argentina went all of the way to become world champions for the first time in 36 years. It was less than two years ago that he earned his spot in the national team setup and now, having cemented his position within the squad, Martinez is likely to be around for a long time. It will be no surprise if he leads Argentina’s World Cup defense in 2026.

In the next edition, the tournament is due to be held in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. As it stands, Argentina is already one of the favorites again according to the outright markets for those online betting in Canada at a price of +1000. It will, of course, be a much bigger tournament with 48 teams being involved and the three host nations all being given automatic qualification.

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It’s not likely that Messi will be around for the national team at that time. Therefore, other stars will need to be in their prime to compensate for his absence.

At this year’s tournament, the efforts of both Martinez and Messi, as well as many others, were vital. The Aston Villa goalkeeper’s contributions were arguably the most crucial, though. In Argentina’s Copa America win of 2021, he first became well known for his antics around penalties and shootouts. He would often delay his opponent’s kick as much as possible in order to allow more time for indecisiveness and pressure to take their toll.

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Penalty routine at the World Cup

In the first penalty shootout of the tournament against the Netherlands, he showcased his penalty mind games for the first time at the World Cup. For the first kick in which Virgil van Dijk stepped up, Martinez’s efforts were subtle. He often eases in his antics slowly in order to avoid punishment from the referee. But still, he took his time to reach his line in order to delay the Dutchman’s kick and he managed to make a save, which gave his nation an immediate advantage.

Another feature of Martinez’s act is to celebrate wildly after saves in order to increase the support of the Argentina fans. In the following spot-kicks, Martinez began to confidently speak to his opponents before they took their kick. He would delay their attempt as much as possible while telling them he knew where they would shoot, and that they would miss. The outcome, as we all know, worked out well for him. He saved several more penalties and Argentina went through. Penalties are ultimately a lottery, but Martinez always manages to tilt the odds in his teams’ favor.

Against France in the final, he made an excellent save just prior to penalties, and when the shootout came he did not disappoint. Again his approach began as a subtle one but quickly devolved into intense mind games. For the second French kick, he threw the ball away, which was a showcase of his control of the box and a method of provoking his opponent. It was missed and his usual wild celebrations followed before he saved Kingsley Coman’s effort from the following French kick to give his team the chance to become world champions.

Gonzalo Montiel netted the decisive kick but Martinez was the hero and arguably Argentina’s most important asset in the competition despite the magnificence of Messi. Twice they had to face a penalty shootout and both times his heroics awarded them victory. Few goalkeepers have had such an influence on such a huge stage and Martinez may well be the greatest keeper of all time when it comes to saving efforts from 12 yards.

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