Martinez: Van Gaal lit the fuse

by | 11 December, 2022 | World Cup News

Emiliano Martinez was Argentina's penalty-saving hero against the Netherlands

Emiliano Martinez was Argentina’s penalty-saving hero against the Netherlands

Emiliano Martinez took a screenshot on his phone, but there was no need: even if he could never find the tweet again, its contents were etched on his brain, ready to fuel a future effort.

It was of Louis van Gaal, talking about the training camps he held for his goalkeepers, with the aim of avoiding a repeat of the Netherlands’ elimination in a shoot-out against Argentina at Brazil 2014: “If we have to go to penalties, I think that’s something that is now in our favour.”

Dibu, as he is known in Argentina, took note. And as it turned out, the quarter final was a chess match with a dramatic finale, including a Netherlands’ equaliser in the dying seconds of stoppage time. And with the scores remaining level after 120 minutes it took penalties to separate the two teams.

The experienced and studious Dutch coach had devised and revised his plan to the point of obsession, but there was one factor that Van Gaal could not control: Martinez and his motivation.

“They talked a lot of nonsense before the game. Their coach was saying they were favourites if it went to penalties and that they wanted to erase the memory of 2014.

“He said it, I saw it, I screenshot it and I saved it. I showed Martin [Tocalli, Argentina goalkeeping coach] and my psychologist and I said to them ‘right, he’s lit the fuse now’. I saved that article on my phone and I looked at it for motivation every day in the run-up to the game.”

And the dynamite exploded: Martinez put on his usual show, dusted off the mind games he had kept in his locker since the semi-final of the last CONMEBOL Copa America against Colombia, and pulled off saves from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis to bury Dutch hopes of revenge for 2014.

Martinez is the latest in a long line of Argentinian goalkeepers to star for their country in World Cup shoot-outs. The successor to Sergio Goycochea, Carlos Roa and Sergio Romero, Dibu has built an impressive record facing spot-kicks and can now be considered a penalty specialist: he saved three against Colombia and two here against the Netherlands. In both shoot-outs he tried all he could to distract the penalty-takers and win his own personal battle.

A little more than a year passed between the ‘I’m going to eat you up, watch me!’ trash talk to the Colombian Yerry Mina and the attempt to distract Van Dijk with goal-line dancing. But Martinez is no stranger to things happening quickly in his career.

His unexpected rise to global prominence during his time with Arsenal, when an injury to Bernd Leno allowed him to become Mikel Arteta’s first choice after years of frustrating loans, his sale to Aston Villa for a huge fee, his breakthrough into the national team and becoming one of coach Lionel Scaloni’s key men – all of them happened quickly and suddenly.

“I’ve learned that in football you do your talking on the field. They talked a lot before the game and that gave me an extra spring in my step. You can’t talk before a game like that and say you’re going to win. That made me stronger, and after the game I told them so. I was just focused on shutting them up and thanks to God I was able to save two penalties. It could have been more.”

A hero once more, he watched from the side as Lautaro Martinez struck the winning penalty. After the ball struck the net, the goalkeeper sank to his knees where he stood, while all his team-mates ran in the opposite direction to mob the scorer.

All bar one, that is: Messi went to find his goalkeeper, to thank him for another miraculous performance, the second in Argentina’s Qatari adventure, following his vital save from Garang Kuol in the last seconds of the Round-of-16 game against Australia.

“We’ve got one of the world’s best goalkeepers,” said Argentina’s No10. “We know that when it goes to penalties, having him tilts things in our favour.”