Martinez saves Messi blushes as Argentina beats Ecuador on penalties to reach Copa America semis

Argentina beat Ecuador 4-2 on penalties to move into the semifinals of the Copa America on Thursday after goalkeeper Emi Martinez made two saves in the shootout following a 1-1 draw in regulation time.

The match went to penalties after Lisandro Martinez’s opener for Argentina was cancelled out by Kevin Rodriguez in stoppage time. There is no extra time in Copa America knockout games apart from the final.

In the shootout, Lionel Messi clipped the crossbar with Argentina’s first effort. However, Martinez saved from Angel Mena and Alan Minda as the defending champion moved into a semifinal match-up against either Venezuela or Canada.

“In penalties, the team has blind confidence in its goalkeeper and that is fundamental,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Even after Leo’s miss and with all that means for the team, it’s very important that our goalkeeper came up clutch.

“I think it’s not enjoyable when you win in this way. Of course, we are happy, but I didn’t enjoy this victory.”

Messi started the game despite being an injury doubt after missing Argentina’s final group match against Peru due to a hamstring issue, and the Albiceleste captain broke the record for most minutes played in the tournament’s history.

Argentina dominated possession early on, but it was Ecuador which created the first chance when Jeremy Sarmiento found space to shoot from a tight angle and forced Martinez into a save.

But as Argentina’s fans found their voice, their team took the lead in the 35th minute when Alexis Mac Allister’s headed flick-on found Martinez at the far post, and the defender nodded home his first international goal.

Ecuador turned up the pressure in the second half, and it paid off at a corner on the hour mark when the cross was deflected onto Rodrigo De Paul’s hand, and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.

Skipper Enner Valencia stepped up and sent Martinez the wrong way, but Ecuador’s top scorer saw his effort come off the post before Argentina defender Cristian Romero blocked a shot from the rebound.

Martinez turned to the crowd and roared in delight with his arms raised, and the miss took the wind out of Ecuador’s sails.

“He’s the captain and he took the penalty because he was feeling confident enough, but he missed. That happens in football,” Ecuador coach Felix Sanchez said.

“In many other areas of the game, he was able to contribute… We really appreciate that he took the chance. It’s a lottery today, it didn’t go in. Maybe next time it will.”

But as the game went into stoppage time Ecuador, which has never beaten Argentina at the Copa America, found the equaliser when John Yeboah whipped in a cross to Rodriguez, who stayed onside to direct a header past Martinez in the 91st minute.

The Argentina goalkeeper had the last laugh, however, making two crucial saves in the shootout before Nicolas Otamendi scored the decisive kick to book a semifinal spot.

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