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More than a showman, Argentina's Martinez builds 50% penalty success rate

Emi Martinez is congratulated by his teammates after his shootout win
Emi Martinez is congratulated by his teammates after his shootout winReuters
With two spectacular saves in a penalty shootout and a hip-shaking dance to celebrate, Argentina's Emi Martinez (31) was at his flamboyant best against Ecuador in the Copa America.

The showman goalie's performance saved his captain Lionel Messi's blushes after he had clipped his penalty onto the crossbar, taking favourites Argentina into the semi-finals despite a shaky performance against far lower-ranked opponents.

It also extended his penalty record with Argentina to an astonishing 50%. Of 24 penalties faced for the national side, Martinez has saved nine with three off target.

"Dibu's an animal. What he's doing is crazy," said grateful teammate Rodrigo De Paul, using his nickname from a cartoon character.

In Houston on Thursday night, Martinez was unable to reprise the more controversial mind games he has used in the past: trash talking with penalty-takers as they walk up, moving the ball away, arguing with the referee.

After such antics at the World Cup helped Argentina to shootout wins over the Netherlands and France, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) changed its rules to say goalkeepers must not "unfairly distract" opponents.

Some dubbed it the "anti-Dibu" law.

However, Ecuador's record goalscorer Enner Valencia was sufficiently unnerved by just the presence of Martinez to hit his penalty against the post in normal time.

When the game ended 1-1 and went to spot kicks, Martinez's charisma was on full show: pumping up fans before diving first to his left then to his right in two magnificent saves from Ecuador's Angel Mena and Alan Minda.

Cue the wobbly dance, famous from the Qatar World Cup.

Rising to the occassion

"I knew that 'Dibu' would come good, he loves those moments, he rises to them," said a relieved Messi.

"He had faith in himself. Even before the game he was joking that if it went to penalties, we should relax."

Martinez' latest heroics mean he has won all four penalty shootouts with Argentina at major tournaments, the most famous being against France to lift the 2022 World Cup.

"In penalty-kick situations, Martinez has one of the most aggressive and disruptive approaches that you will ever see," wrote a fellow goalkeeper Matt Pyzdrowski that year.

"His ultimate aim is to put as much pressure on the taker as possible and create a moment of hesitation or doubt during their run-up. And as we’ve seen time and again in recent years, it works."

Martinez' larger-than-life personality has made him an idol to Argentines and fans of his Premier League club Aston Villa.

But his unsportsmanlike penalty antics prior to the rule change angered some, as did his mockery of France's losing captain Kylian Mbappe in 2022 and a notorious phallic gesture with the Golden Glove in front of his Qatari hosts.

Against Ecuador, however, Rodriguez showed a gentlemanly side, consoling counterpart Alexander Dominguez after Ecuador were knocked out.

Hoarse from the emotion, Martinez said there was no magic formula to his penalty record, with old-fashioned hard work the platform. "I throw myself 500 times a day in training, I always stay in good form," he said.

Argentina next face either Canada or Venezuela in the semi-finals as they seek a record 16th Copa America title.

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