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SPORTS | 07-07-2021 00:23

Emi Martínez the hero as Argentina seal Copa América final clash with Brazil

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez saves three spot-kicks as Argentina clinch dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia after 1-1 draw, setting up a mouth-watering Copa América final against Brazil on Saturday.

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez saved three spot-kicks to give Argentina a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia on Tuesday night, setting up a mouth-watering Copa América final showdown against Brazil.

The Aston Villa shot-stopper became an overnight hero thanks to his performance, which came after a bruising 1-1 draw in Brasilia. 

Hosts Brazil beat Peru 1-0 in Monday's first semi-final meaning their star forward Neymar will line up against Lionel Messi's Argentina on Saturday.

Two years ago a Brazil team missing the injured Neymar knocked out Argentina in the semi-finals before winning their ninth Copa title on home soil.

For Messi, 34, time is running out to win a first major international title with his national team, having previously lost in three Copa finals and the 2014 World Cup final.

For once he wasn't his country's main hero, although he did create the opening goal for Lautaro Martínez on seven minutes, before Luis Díaz equalised just after the hour mark.

In the shoot-out, goalkeeper Martínez three times dived to his left to save penalties from centre-backs Davinson Sánchez and Yerry Mina, as well as midfielder Edwin Cardona.

And although Rodrigo De Paul skied his penalty for Argentina, Messi – who finished with blood seeping visibly from his left ankle after receiving a number of heavy challenges – was amongst the scorers to give them a 3-2 victory on spot-kicks.

 

Fast Albiceleste start

Messi produced some early magic to beat three players and cross for Martínez to head wide.

Colombia didn't heed the warning and on seven minutes, Giovanni Lo Celso found Messi in the box, the diminutive star held off the giant Mina and picked out Martínez to fire into the far corner.

Colombia almost hit back immediately but goalkeeper Martínez was down quickly to keep out Juan Cuadrado's low strike.

After Argentina's fast start, Colombia started to dominate and Cuadrado sent a free-kick just over the bar.

The Cafeteros cranked up the pressure and hit the woodwork twice in quick succession.

After Wilmar Barrios' half-volley deflected off Lo Celso's hand and struck the post, Mina headed the resulting corner onto the bar.

But Argentina were a whisker away from doubling their advantage on the stroke of half-time when Nicolás González powered a header from a Messi corner goalwards, with Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina somehow scooping the ball over the bar.

 

Di María impact

Colombia remained the better side after the break with Duvan Zapata having a shot blocked and substitute Miguel Borja firing wide.

But they deservedly equalised on 61 minutes when Cardona took a quick free-kick from inside his own half and sent Díaz scampering away to hold off Germán Pezzella and dink a clever finish over Martínez.

Argentina brought on Ángel Di María for González and the tricky winger immediately brought more urgency to his side's attack.

But Di María and Martínez contrived to butcher a glorious chance to give Argentina the lead again.

Daniel Muñoz's wayward back pass sent Di María scampering towards goal. He dribbled round Ospina and teed up Martínez whose shot was blocked on the line by Barrios before the PSG forward blazed the rebound over.

Di María then played in Messi who thudded a shot off the post before De Paul's follow up was charged down by Sánchez.

Messi shot a late free-kick into the wall but after the 90 minutes were up, it was Martínez's time to take centre-stage.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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