Untested in extra time, Emiliano Martinez took penalties as goalkeeper with more pressure on him, the bigger spotlight on his side after a two-goal lead and the weight of expectations from a nervous Argentine contingent in a frenzy at the contest. Lusail Stadium. And Martinez delivered.
Amid all the nerve-racking moments that come with the art of goalkeeping and the extremely small margin of error it allows, Argentine fans expect Martinez to remain calm through it all. That ability was again on display in their World Cup quarter-final against the Netherlands, where Martinez produced a huge result.
Virtually unchallenged for 82 minutes as his side led 2-0, he saw his net break twice, and once with what was the final kick of regulation time, as Argentina’s World Cup dream seemed all but slipping away.
Diving decisively to the right and with both hands to Virgil van Dijk’s penalty, then left to save Steven Berghuis, he did enough to take his country to the semi-finals. Martinez’s exploits were nothing new, having been called up to make two game-winning saves during the nervy Round of 16 clash against Australia.
For the 30-year-old, his courage has defined his life, whether it’s making his first dive rescues or moving continents with no financial backing to pursue a career.
After a promising youth career in Argentina, Martinez was given the opportunity to move to England, where Premier League side Arsenal were looking for a new reserve goalkeeper. Martinez was 20 at the time and did not believe he would be able to reach Europe, spend time away from his family and fly back and forth from England and Argentina every few months, given his visa requirements. But to give his family a bigger financial net, he called.
“It wasn’t a poor, poor background, but my family was struggling financially,” he told The Guardian in 2020. “I saw my brother and mother crying and saying, ‘Please don’t go.’ But I had also seen my dad crying late at night because he couldn’t pay the bills, so I had to be brave then because I said yes for them.”
Martinez’s ability to make saves and play with the ball at his feet are both evident, but at Arsenal he struggled to get the chance to showcase that ability. After a few fringe appearances and several successive loan spells – ranging from England’s fourth and second divisions to mid-table top teams in Spain – Martinez found himself at a crossroads.
The 30-year-old had spent seven years without a chance at Arsenal, but he knew he would not return to Argentina empty-handed. “When I turned 18 and moved into my first flat in Enfield, I said to my mother, ‘I don’t want to return to my country with nothing, I want to make a career here.’ I didn’t want to be one of those frustrated players who go to Europe and come back with nothing,” he said.
Martinez showed he wasn’t afraid to make bold calls for his life. He refused to return to Argentina without achieving what he wanted to do in Europe, faced with the uncertainty of being shuffled from one loan spell to another for seven years. He put himself in a position at Arsenal where he refused to go on loan, to fight for his place in the team, which finally came at the end of the COVID-slowed 2019/20 season when he kept goal during Arsenal’s FA Cup -triumph. .
He refused to stay at the club afterwards, knowing his place would remain uncertain, earning a £20 million transfer to Aston Villa, ultimately leading to the national team call-up, a Copa America triumph and World Cup heroics. .
Martinez’s mindset is a product of his career and his courage throughout it. For a player who has earned his stripes at Oxford United and Reading, the pressure of a World Cup is a privilege.