Lionel Messi hailed “phenomenon” Emiliano Martinez after the Argentina goalkeeper saved three penalties to lead La Albiceleste to the Copa America final.
After Tuesday’s semi-final against Colombia ended 1-1 without extra time, Martinez was the hero in the shoot-out, saving penalties from Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona as Argentina earned a blockbuster showdown with defending champions Brazil.
Penalties were needed after Lautaro Martinez’s seventh-minute opener was cancelled out by Colombia winger Luis Diaz just past the hour-mark in Brasilia.
Messi will have another chance to claim his first senior international trophy on Saturday as Argentina eye their first title since 1993, and the superstar captain heaped praise on Emiliano Martinez post-game.
El hoy le prestó su capa de superhéroe ¡Los abraza todo un país!
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) July 7, 2021
“At times it became difficult,” said Messi, who provided the assist for Lautaro Martinez and struck the post with nine minutes remaining. “But we have Emi who is a phenomenon.
“We trusted him. We achieved the goal of being able to play every game and now we are going to the final.
“It was very hard, but we deserved it because we wanted it.
“The last cup, the group had already become strong and had left a good image. Now we are going to the final.”
Argentina – Copa runners-up in 2015 and 2016 – are in the midst of a 19-match unbeaten streak, dating back to the 2019 semi-final against Brazil at the CONMEBOL tournament.
It is the second longest unbeaten streak among Argentina head coaches, Lionel Scaloni only behind Alfio Basile (33 between 1991 and 1993).
“It is a time to celebrate, to enjoy. Tomorrow [Wednesday] we will think about the final,” Scaloni told reporters.
“It takes a lot to get here, a lot of work, a lot of time from all the people who accompany us.
“My voice almost broke when talking about this group of players. We have been focused for a long time and they continue to push forward.”
Messi finished with a team-high five key passes and a joint team-best three shots against Colombia.
Since 2011, Messi is the Argentina player with the most duels of the ball – averaging 15.7 per game after being involved in 26 in the semi-finals.
“For me, there is no better version of Messi, he is the one that always gives,” added Scaloni. “We are very proud of him and of his team-mates.”
As for Emiliano Martinez, Scaloni said: “We are very happy with Emiliano’s performance, not only because of the penalties, but also because of the security he is transmitting. The group of goalkeepers supports themselves permanently and we like that.”
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