Lionel Messi red-faced after Panenka penalty as Emi Martinez performs heroics

Lionel Messi hit the bar with his penalty. (Image: Getty)

Argentina overcame Ecuador on penalties in the Copa America despite Lionel Messi being left red-faced as his Panenka attempt backfired. After returning from injury, it was the all-time great who stepped up first for his country after their quarter-final clash with Ecuador had finished 1-1 after 120 minutes.

But attempting to cooly chip his effort down the middle, Messi saw his effort come back off the bar.

His blushes were spared by Emiliano Martinez though, with the keeper again proving the hero as he saved from Angel Mena and Alan Minda to see his side through 4-2 on spot kicks.

Largely backed by the pro-Argentinian crowd of 69,456 at NRG Stadium, the Albiceleste had been given a 35th-minute lead by Lisandro Martinez. That goal came from Messi’s corner, before Ecuador’s Enner Valencia smashed a penalty against the post after the break.

But Kevin Rodriguez levelled matters in injury time to force 30 extra minutes. And despite Messi’s blunder, Martinez repeated his heroics of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and accompanied the saves with his usual theatrics.

He dived to his left to deny Mena and managed to fend the ball away with his trailing hand. And after flinging himself to his right to thwart Minda, he performed a celebratory dance for the crowd.

Emi Martinez celebrates a penalty save. (Image: Getty)

“I wasn’t ready to go home,” said the 31-year-old. “This team deserved to advance. They complicated us a lot. They played a great match, very physical. We knew they were one of the top rivals in Copa America.”

Argentina, looking to win a 16th straight Copa America, will play Venezuela or Canada in their semi-final at East Rutherford next Tuesday. On the other side of the draw, the winners of Colombia and Panama will take on Brazil or Uruguay.

In the same week his great rival Ronaldo endured a nightmare against Slovenia at Euro 2024, Messi failed to get on the scoresheet for the third straight game in the US. But his display was defended afterwards by manager Lionel Scaloni.

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“I think he finished the match well,” Scaloni said, when asked if his key man struggled upon his return. “We asked him how he was feeling for the last time four minutes before the end.”

Argentina are aiming for a third straight international tournament title. They won the 2021 Copa America in Brazil before their World Cup triumph in Qatar the following year.