The mind games of Argentine dance champion Martinez

All the talk ahead of Sunday’s impressive World Cup final between Argentina and France was understandably about Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, but in the end, it was another name on everyone’s lips – Aimee Martinez.

After 120 thrilling, twisted, emotionally draining minutes and the match level at 3-3, penalty kicks were needed to decide who would lift the best prize in football.

While the players of the Argentine national team calmly converted all four penalties, Martinez broke the hearts of the French.

Mbappe scored two penalties in the match, so there was little surprise he converted France’s first penalty, although Martinez wasn’t far behind.

Since then, the Aston Villa goalkeeper has taken center stage.

He went all the way again to deny Kingsley Coman, before ramping up the mind games to further unsettle the French players.

With Aurelien Tchoamene taking his turn, perhaps already feeling the weight of expectation, Martínez rolled the ball away from the Real Madrid midfielder, forcing him to walk to get it.

There’s a word for such antics by Martinez that can’t be mentioned here, but it had the desired effect as the 22-year-old Tchoamene pulled his penalty kick away, resulting in a dance reminiscent of Alan Pardew’s glamor in the 2016 Crystal Palace trophy. Cup final against Manchester United.

Emiliano Martinez saves a penalty kick
Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s penalty in the penalty shootout against France
Amy Martinez
He then tipped Alan Pardew with a small jig after Aurelien Tchoameni’s penalty shot wide.

That put Argentina within striking distance of their first World Cup since 1986, and although Randall Kolo Mwane slotted France’s next penalty, it delayed the South Americans’ celebrations when substitute Gonzalo Montiel scored early on.

BBC Sport pundits on the match agreed that Martínez’s antics played a large part in the victory.

Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas said: “There is no doubt that he had a huge impact on a mental level in the penalty shootout.”

Former England striker Alan Shearer added: “He was trying to distract them, he was kicking the ball away, he was talking to the players, he was putting as much pressure on them as he could.”

“Even his movements behind the goal line, he was moving around, trying to catch the eye of the person shooting the ball,” said former England defender Rio Ferdinand.

Amy Martinez
Emiliano Martinez helped Argentina keep clean sheets against Mexico, Poland and Croatia at the World Cup

The game might not have gone to a penalty shootout had it not been for Martinez’s fantastic save in the closing seconds of extra time.

Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate fired the ball forward and Mwani sprinted, but Martinez was quick to close the gap before spreading out to block the end.

It was one of a number of great saves by Martínez in Qatar, and he was awarded the tournament’s Golden Glove for most clean sheets, three.

He certainly made a huge impact in his short time with the national team. Since his debut last year, he has helped Argentina win the Copa America and now the World Cup.

He had to be patient to start his career. Martinez spent eight years at Arsenal, going out on loan six times and playing just 11 Premier League games for Arsenal, before joining Villa two years ago and growing in stature.

“I have no words,” Martinez said after Sunday’s final.

Everything you dreamed of has come true.”

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