'Animal' Martinez saves Messi; an alternative guide to Euro 2024 last eight


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Hello! Bet the house on Emi Martinez. Not on Lionel Messi.

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Plus: Our alternative guide to the Euro 2024 quarter-finals. It’s hotting up in Germany.


Copa Corner: ‘Animal’ Martinez saves Messi in shootout

A Lionel Messi Panenka penalty fail, and an Emiliano Martinez penalty dance. How’s that for a lively show at the Copa America?

With neat timing, TAFC spoke about Martinez’s gamesmanship yesterday, and it came out of the box again last night to rescue Argentina and a fit-to-play Messi from a Copa debacle in Houston.

Their quarter-final against Ecuador went to penalties and an audible gasp came from the crowd when Messi, with the first spot kick, plumped for a Panenka that clipped the crossbar.

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The tactic was preordained. He had sought advice on it, and Martinez told him a chip was the best way to beat Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez. Them’s the risks when you choose to showboat.

But up stepped Martinez — the “animal in goal”, to quote Rodrigo De Paul — to dig out Messi with two saves as Argentina edged the shootout 4-2. After the first, he saluted Messi. Messi, on halfway, saluted back. Emi had his back. No conversion, no problem.

Over 90 minutes, Messi was unusually unassertive: 32 touches, his lowest number internationally for 13 years. He must have gone to lie in a dark room. Ecuador, meanwhile, went off to sack their coach, Felix Sanchez. Isn’t sport fickle?

Looking for romance

There’s a bona fide underdog at Copa 2024, one we haven’t mentioned enough — Venezuela. They’ve never qualified for a World Cup. At one stage, they went 40 years without a Copa win. The country is baseball-mad and football pitches are less common there than diamonds.

But they topped Group B with a perfect nine points, and a tangle with Jesse Marsch’s Canada later looks 50-50 to me. Nothing against Canada, but they’re not the romantic angle.

USMNT questions answered

I chuckled at The Athletic’s story this week about USMNT fan groups calling en masse for Gregg Berhalter to be sacked. With friends like these…

But in their defence, they’ve got a point. Failure at the Copa means his position as head coach has to be scrutinised, so I wanted to see how the subject was addressed in a big Q&A published by our U.S. writers today.

Paul Tenorio, who has his ear to the ground, thinks Berhalter walking the plank is “absolutely a possibility”. U.S. Soccer, he says, is in no way certain of sticking its head in the sand. I don’t know if you noticed but Jurgen Klopp was posting nice things about the USA on Instagram yesterday. Nod, nod. Wink, wink.

Catch a match

(Quarter-finals, times ET/UK) Friday: Venezuela vs Canada (9pm/2am) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports 1.

Saturday: Colombia vs Panama (6pm/11pm) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports 1; Uruguay vs Brazil (9pm/2am) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports 1.


News round-up


Euros Zone

Hear that bell? It’s ringing in the last eight at Euro 2024. Here are some details you probably didn’t know about the teams, personalities, and tactics involved…

🇩🇪Germany vs Spain🇪🇸

What links Julian Nagelsmann, Adolf Hitler and Johnny Cash? No jokes, please — the answer is Landsberg am Lech, the town in Germany where Nagelsmann grew up. A passion for ice hockey, a father who operated as a spy for German intelligence, a coach at 20… Danny Taylor’s profile of him left me struggling to see a more captivating character at Euro 2024.

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Spain like to go left and right, driven there by Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams (above). Germany go central, and more so than they have in years. We’re not talking politics but two contrasting forms of attack between the nations who meet in Stuttgart later. Predicted outcome? No idea.

🇫🇷 France vs Portugal 🇵🇹

The France midfielder and Mbappe’s new team-mate at Real Madrid is a man with strings to his bow: a piano-playing linguist who operates a YouTube channel where he interviews figures from the worlds of sport, culture and business.

For as long as the French keep firing blanks, much depends on Tchouameni and N’Golo Kante getting their hands dirty in midfield.

There’s only one member of Portugal’s squad to talk about. That’s right, Diogo Costa. I can hardly think of a more supremely honed technique for saving penalties than his against Slovenia — trailing foot behind the line, an explosive spring one way or the other and perfect telepathy.

I know, every goalkeeper is trying this tactic, but he’s got it nailed — and there’s every chance he needs it later.

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🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England vs Switzerland🇨🇭

Bated breath in England as we wait to learn if Gareth Southgate, seeking help from above, pivots to a three-man defence with Kyle Walker and Bukayo Saka as wing-backs. It would let Phil Foden go central. It would make room for Ollie Watkins or Ivan Toney. It might stop the infuriating glut of backwards and sideways passes too. Because you’re not imagining them:

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Find five minutes to take in a replay of Switzerland’s first goal in their last 16 win over Italy. Just the 31 passes setting up Remo Freuler’s deflected volley. They’re expertly drilled and in Granit Xhaka, they have a midfielder who’s spent the past year being borderline unbeatable (W48, D16, L2 for club and country in 2023-24). Dark horses.

🇳🇱 Netherlands vs Turkey 🇹🇷

Cody Gakpo is flavour of the month for the Dutch but while he’s waiting for invitations to cut in off the left, his team are busier carving out overloads on the right. If Memphis Depay locks down the full-back, then Denzel Dumfries, the stage is yours.

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Turkey’s Arda Guler. I said on Wednesday I’d bet my last dollar on him placing a corner on a specific blade of grass. Just don’t make me chase him. He’s a nightmare to pick up.

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Catch a match

(Quarter-finals, times ET/UK) — Friday: Spain vs Germany (12pm/5pm) — Fox, Fubo, ITV1, live blog; Portugal vs France (3pm/8pm) — Fox, Fubo, BBC One, live blog.

Saturday: England vs Switzerland (12pm/5pm) — Fox, Fubo, BBC One; Netherlands vs Turkey (3pm/8pm) — Fox, Fubo, ITV1.


Quiz Question❓

Fourteen players have scored one goal for England under Gareth Southgate. We’ll give you half of them, and let you name the other seven: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Kalvin Phillips, Ben Chilwell, Cole Palmer, Ivan Toney, Danny Ings.

It’s the usual drill: the answer will be here later today, and in Monday’s TAFC.

(Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images)





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