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SPORTS | 05-07-2024 10:38

'Dibu' Martínez, the shoot-out 'animal,' roars again for Argentina

Argentina's goalkeeper produced two brilliant diving saves to ensure his nation progressed on penalties against Ecuador in the Copa América quarter-finals on Thursday.

It will be tough for Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez to top his penalty shoot-out heroics from the run to World Cup glory in Qatar in 2022 but that certainly won't stop him trying.

The keeper, known as 'El Dibu' by his adoring fans, produced two brilliant diving saves in the shoot-out to earn his team a 4-2 win on penalties against Ecuador in the Copa América quarter-finals on Thursday.

The game had ended 1-1 in normal time and with no extra time in the Copa, until the final, the game went straight to penalties.

When Lionel Messi chipped the opening attempt against the top of the bar, the almost 70,000 fans in NRG Stadium could have been forgiven for thinking Argentina's title defence was about to end.

But Martínez had other ideas.

Just as he had done against Colombia, in the Copa semi-final in Brazil in 2021 and then against the Netherlands in the quarter-final of the World Cup when he saved two Dutch spot-kicks, the Aston Villa keeper turned the game in his team's favour.

"Dibu is an animal. The truth is that what he is doing is crazy. He deserves it. He loves to wear these colours. He gives us a lot of security and peace of mind. We try to do the same for him, but in these important moments he's always there, he's always there," said midfielder Rodrigo De Paul.

His most famous performance of all, of course, was in the World Cup final against France when not only did he save from Kingsley Coman but his mind games put added pressure on Aurelien Tchouameni who missed his kick as Argentina won the shoot-out 4-2.

This time there was no dancing on his line, no indication of his chatter with opponents or other mind-games – although he certainly made clear his joy at the saves with his gestures to the fans.

"I told the guys before the penalty shootout that I wasn't ready to go home. This group deserves to go all the way to the final," Martínez told Argentine television.

The keeper dived to his left to deny Ángel Mena and then to his right to keep out Alan Minda's spot-kick, celebrating his saves wildly.

"I got a bit full on with the crowd. I had all the Argentines here, my family close by. So these are special moments," he said.

Martínez, who won the Golden Glove at the World Cup and was voted FIFA's Best Goalkeeper in 2022, has come through plenty of tough battles in his career, having moved to England as a teenager, joining Arsenal.

While he dreamt of making his mark in the Premier League and with the national team, there was little glamour in his early years with the Gunners as he was loaned out to lower-league clubs.

He had spells at Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United before stepping up to Wolverhampton Wanderers and eventually getting a chance with Arsenal.

He was sold to Aston Villa in 2020 and saved a penalty in his first game for his new club against Sheffield United.

He has established such a rapport with the national team and produced such vital saves from the spot and in open play that coach Lionel Scaloni said he had ensured an ultra-confident mood for his team-mates in the shoot-out.

"In the penalties I think the team felt a blind trust in their goalkeeper and for us that is fundamental. Even if Leo missed I think the team knew that something positive was going to happen. That is so important," he said.

by Simon Evans, AFP

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