Emi Martinez was the hero for Argentina in the last moments of the World Cup Final
The spotlight was understandably on Lionel Messi. Arguably the greatest player of all time. But it was Aston Villa's goalkeeper, Emi Martinez, who was the hero for Argentina in the last moments of the World Cup Final in Qatar.
It was a dramatic end to a dramatic tournament. 120 minutes of twists and turns saw the game level 3-3, forcing a penalty shootout to decide who lifted the famous trophy.
It could have been very different if not for Martinez - he made a stunning save with what was almost the final touch of extra time, denying France's Randal Kolo Muani when he was put clean through.
Onto penalties and while the Argentinian takers converted all four of their spot kicks, Martinez put it all on the line for his country, denying the French team of their football dream.
He went into it a penalty hero for his country before, stopping the Dutch in the quarter final. And he was able to produce the same heroics again.
First, he dived the right way to save Kingsley Coman's spot kick.
Just a moment before Aurélien Tchouaméni's turn, Martinez ramped up the mind games when he threw the ball away from the Frenchman and the referee. Tchouaméni retrieved it, stepped up, and dragged his penalty wide.
Kolo Muani scored France's next penalty, but substitute Gonzalo Montiel made no mistake with his, to take the shootout 4-2 and give Argentina their first World Cup since 1986.
A number of saves made by Martinez throughout the World Cup in Qatar earned him the tournament's Golden Glove Award to recognise him as the best goalkeeper throughout the competition.
The triumph marks the heights of the Aston Villa goal keepers incredible journey and he celebrated it with an interesting gesture to say the least.
A decade of defiance:
A decade ago, Emi Martinez moved from Argentina to England in order to give himself the best chance to make it as a professional footballer. He joined Arsenal aged 17 on a youth contract.
On the very day Messi scored his 91st goal for club and country in 2012, Emi Martinez wasn’t even named in Arsenal’s squad to face Wigan.
He had to go out on loan to get game time. He made his league debut in 2012 for Oxford United, and conceded three goals at Port Vale.
Between Messi’s third and sixth Ballon d’Ors, Martinez had left Arsenal on loan six times to play for the likes of Oxford, Rotherham, Getafe and Reading, while he made just six Premier League appearances under Arsene Wenger for the Gunners.
He decided to leave to join Aston Villa in 2020 to become a first-choice goalkeeper - an opportunity he's well-and-truly grasped.
Since the 2018 World Cup, the Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has given game time to seven different goalkeepers. Agustin Marchesin of Porto has had his fair share of minutes, while Scaloni has also handed debuts to Geronimo Rulli, Paulo Gazzaniga, Juan Musso and Esteban Andrade.
Then, the Aston Villa goalkeeper was given his chance.
Martinez made his Argentina debut against Chile in June 2021. He had never played a competitive professional game in his home nation.
He was the second name on Argentina’s team sheet after Messi during this World Cup. Last night, he lifted football's greatest prize.
And at the age of 30, he's won a World Cup and has many more years ahead to compete in more major tournaments.
Martinez' time at Aston Villa:
Emi Martinez signed a four year deal at Aston Villa on September 16 2020, before making his debut for the club five days later saving a penalty from John Lundstram in a 1-0 home win against Sheffield United.
In his first season with the club he was named Aston Villa's supporters player of the season after he equalled Brad Friedel's club record for clean sheets in a Premier League season, with 15.
In January 2022, he signed a three year extension with the club which will see him contracted to Villa until the end of the 2026/2027 season.