Emi Martinez saves Lionel Messi and Argentina in Copa América penalty shootout

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 04: Lionel Messi of Argentina battles for possession with Piero Hincapie of Ecuador during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 quarter-final match between Argentina and Ecuador at NRG Stadium on July 04, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

For most of 90 minutes Thursday night, Argentina was comfortable. For 360-plus minutes at this 2024 Copa América, the reigning champions of everything had not conceded a single goal.

A little after 10 p.m. in Houston, though, they were on the brink of elimination, stunned by Ecuador and down in a penalty shootout — until goalkeeper Emi Martinez saved the day.

Argentina was ahead for most of a tense match, but never dominant. And in second-half stoppage time, Ecuador equalized — sending the game straight to penalties.

In the shootout, Messi, after a long, lonely walk from midfield to the spot, chipped his penalty straight down the middle of the goal, and hit the crossbar.

But Martinez, the hero of the 2022 World Cup final and past penalty shootouts, responded with an emphatic save on Ecuador’s first attempt.

Messi, arm in arm with teammate Cristian Romero, pumped his first toward Martinez to thank him.

After Julian Álvarez scored Argentina’s second attempt, Martinez produced another remarkable save, diving to his right with a massive left hand. He turned toward a delighted crowd and danced.

Alexis Mac Allister then put Argentina ahead 2-0. Ecuador scored to make it 2-1. But Gonzalo Montiel, who scored the clincher in Qatar, stayed calm to give Argentina a commanding 3-1 lead.

And after Ecuador again scored, Nicolas Otamendi converted to trigger relieved celebrations.

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