Argentina star Lautaro Martinez showed courage and class by firing in a penalty against the Netherlands in epic shootout
WITH margins growing ever finer in the World Cup, the art of penalty taking becomes increasingly important, both during the game and in the shoot out. But there is nothing easy about it.
Ask Harry Kane, or Marquinhos of Brazil, whose shot against the post saw Brazil eliminated by Croatia.
These things can be practised and practised again. But there is no real preparation for the extra pressure of the moment.
Harry Kane`s second effort against France was not too far away nestling in the roof of the net, unstoppable for any keeper.
Had Marquinhos shot just a fraction to his left then the ball would have gone in off the post and not come back on the wrong side of the line. Adrenalin alters the calculations just enough to turn triumph into tragedy.
All of this sets the scene for one of the greatest penalties in the history of the World Cup – the shot by Lautaro Martinez that eliminated Holland and clinched Argentina’s place in Tuesday’s semi final.
Martinez came into the tournament as Argentina’s first choice centre forward, the choice of some to be the top scorer of the World Cup.
And he seemed to be living up to that billing in the first half of Argentina’s opening game against Saudi Arabia.
Twice he was clean through on the keeper, and twice he clipped his finish competently into the back of the net. Twice, though, VAR ruled it out for the narrowest of offsides.
Argentina, of course, went on to suffer a shock defeat in that game – a huge blow to collective morale and a blow to Martinez.
Coach Lionel Scaloni was forced into a rethink in the course of the competition, and Lautaro Martinez ended up losing his place in the side, giving way to the extra mobility of Julian Alvarez.
He remained part of Scaloni’s plans, and was brought off the bench against Poland in the last group game and in the first knock out round against Australia.
Argentina wanted to get him on the scoresheet, to get him up and running in the competition. But Martinez was undergoing a very public crisis of confidence.
What had been looking so easy suddenly became very difficult. He could not find the target. The goal now appeared tiny in his sights as he sent his shots harmlessly wide or embarrassingly over.
His aim was better when he came on against Holland in the quarter final. One goalbound shot was blocked by a defender. Another forced a good save from Andres Noppert in the Dutch goal.
But he still hadn’t opened his account in the World Cup – and so there were some worried faces in Argentina when he strode forward to take Argentina’s fifth penalty in the shoot out.
The context made it even more dramatic. Argentina had appeared to have the game won in normal time, only to have it snatched away with the Dutch forcing an extraordinary last second equaliser.
Martinez and his mates had hammered away during extra time but were unable to find the vital blow. After Emiliano Martinez saved the first two Holland penalties, Argentina surely had the shoot out in the bag. But the tide was turning.
Holland struck three in a row. Enzo Fernandez wasted a match point when he shot wide. The last remaining match point lay at the feet of Lautaro Martinez.
Miss this one and it was back to level pegging, with the Dutch going into sudden death favoured by the momentum.
It took remarkable courage for Lautaro Martinez to step forward for the big moment. The giant Noppert must have made the goal seem alarmingly small.
A miss and the initiative passes to Holland, while Martinez becomes the villain of villains.
But it was precisely in his willingness to take the kick that the centre forward showed his character. And it was in the ruthless way that he fired past the keeper that he showed his class.
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