Argentina wins penalty shootout to reach semifinals, Messi misses from spot

Argentina reached the semifinals of Copa America but had an almighty scare in the process.

Lionel Messi returned after an upper leg injury kept him out of the final group game against Peru, and provided the corner kick from which Lisandro Martinez put the defending champions ahead in the first half.

Argentina conceded a penalty on the hour-mark — only for Ecuador captain Enner Valencia to roll his effort against the post — and then Ecuador equalized in stoppage time, against the run of play through Kevin Rodriguez, to take this quarterfinal to penalties.

Messi missed Argentina’s opener but penalty king Emiliano Martinez saved Argentina’s blushes, stopping Ecuador twice to see his side progress to the last four.

Emi MArtinez

Martinez celebrates saving two penalties (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Felipe Cardenas and Paul Tenorio dissect the key talking points from NRG Stadium, Houston…

How was this game won?

2-0. 1-0. 2-0. 1-0… and then chaos.

Argentina were seconds away from a place in the semifinals, having not conceded a goal in the group stage at Copa America, and then Kevin Rodriguez struck to take this match to penalties. Step forward Emi Martinez, this is your time…

Argentina 0-0 Ecuador. Missed! Messi tried a Panenka but hit the top of the crossbar.

Messi penalty scaled

(Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Argentina 0-0 Ecuador. Saved! Angel Mena denied by Emi Martinez.

Argentina 1-0 Ecuador. Scored! Julian Alvarez with a powerful right-foot shot into the top corner.

Argentina 1-0 Ecuador. Saved! Alan Minda saw his effort saved by Martinez.

Argentina 2-0 Ecuador. Scored! Alexis Mac Allister was the epitome of composed.

Argentina 2-1.  Scored! John Yeboah with a powerful finish.

Argentina 3-1. Scored! No hesitation from Gonzalo Montiel.

Argentina 3-2. Scored! Jordy Caicedo squeaked it past Martinez. Just.

Argentina 4-2. Scored! Nicolas Otamendi puts Argentina in the semifinals!

Messi was back. How did he do?

What odds on Messi missing a penalty? Argentina’s No 10 attempted a Panenka and it did not come off, with audible gasps from around the stadium as Messi’s effort did not find the back of the net.

Ecuador will feel it did a pretty good job controlling Messi through the first 45 minutes. He did not look limited physically at all after missing the group finale but after a half hour, he had just 11 touches in the game. Every time Messi floated wide to try to get on the ball in space, Ecuador closed down with multiple defenders. They weren’t going to let him hide near the touchline to find space.

In the next five minutes, however, Messi showed that all he needs is the smallest space and a couple of touches to change the game. In the 34th minute, he played a beautiful ball through to Enzo Fernandez that led to a chance for the Chelsea man only for the shot to be blocked and go out for a corner. One minute later, Messi served in that corner kick and it was flicked on by Alexis Mac Allister and finished at the far post by Lisandro Martinez. And just like that it was 1-0 Argentina.

Paul Tenorio

Valencia has had a tournament to forget, hasn’t he?

The veteran striker had an unbelievable tournament at the World Cup in Qatar, scoring three goals in three games. This Copa América was, uh, less memorable.

Valencia picked up a red card for a ruthlessly high boot just 20 minutes into Ecuador’s tournament opener against Venezuela, leaving his team shorthanded for the majority of a 2-1 loss. Valencia then picked up a yellow card half an hour into Thursday’s game for a foul on Mac Allister.

But it was Valencia’s penalty attempt in the 62nd minute that hurt the most. With Emiliano Martinez diving the opposite way, Valencia didn’t make full contact with his shot, a weak effort that rolled off the left post and bounced wide.


(Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images)

It was an awkward-looking penalty that seemed almost like Valencia was trying so hard to read the goalkeeper’s dive that he failed to hit the ball with any conviction at all, wasting Ecuador’s best chance to draw level with Argentina.

He was subbed off in the 80th minute

Paul Tenorio

Finally a first-half goal for Argentina…was Messi going for an Olimpico?

Messi has won everything. He’s scored hundreds of goals across several continents. But he still hasn’t scored directly from a corner kick.



The olímpico: The one soccer achievement that eludes Lionel Messi

Termed an Olimpico, Messi appeared to be going for the elusive goal when his venomous service from the corner flag screamed towards Ecuador’s near post. Argentina midfielder Alexis Mac Allister reacted quickly and flicked Messi’s cross across the goalmouth. Lisando Martinez, unmarked at the far post, calmly headed the ball into the net to score his first goal for Argentina.


Lisandro Martinez scores Argentina’s opener (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

It was also the first time at this tournament that the defending champions had scored in the first half. It needed Messi’s service from wide areas, and a dead ball, for Argentina to break the deadlock.

Felipe Cardenas

Emi Martinez said the field for Argentina’s opening game was a ‘trampoline’. Was this any better?

Martinez described the Mercedes-Benz Stadium pitch in Atlanta as “a disaster.” It certainly was not a surprising assessment from the outspoken Aston Villa goalkeeper.

Houston’s NRG Stadium, another domed NFL arena, didn’t play much better. It was fast and choppy. The ball bounced unpredictably, whether it was a short ball played laterally or off a long diagonal pass, while stripes of turf were clearly visible on television coverage.


(Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Argentina’s players seemed to struggle more with the conditions of the pitch than Ecuador did. Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has refused to discuss the pitch conditions after his scathing review after Argentina’s 2-0 win over Canada in Atlanta. He’ll have to hold back again if asked about Houston’s playing surface.



‘It’s not normal grass’: Why field conditions at Copa America are causing concern

Felipe Cardenas

How did Ecuador try to contain Argentina?

Through the first 30 minutes, Ecuador had fairly good control of the game. Messi had been limited to just 11 touches, mostly because Ecuador was pressing higher than expected and finding success cutting off service to Argentina’s attacking players.

On the ball, Ecuador was pushing quickly up the field, especially through the left side and Jeremy Sarmiento. Ecuador created a turnover near midfield in just the sixth minute, with Moisés Caicedo only managing a weak shot as four Argentina defenders converged in the box. Then, Sarmiento got a great look at goal in the 15th minute after beating Nahuel Molina.

Jeremy Sarmiento

Sarmiento, 22, impressed in the opening minutes (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

Ecuador’s pressure and ability to recover defensively left Argentina with few answers. They struggled to find their midfielders in dangerous places and looked mostly to the wings to try to create chances. It’s what made Argentina’s corner such a devastating blow. Ecuador had been effective at limiting Argentina, only to see a set piece change the game.

Ecuador pushed the game late in the second half and were testing Argentina time and time again. Finally they broke through with a goal in stoppage time to send the game to penalties. It was a deserved goal for a team that had done well to limit Argentina while creating dangerous moments on either side of half time.

Paul Tenorio

What’s next for Argentina?

Argentina vs Venezuela or Canada, MetLife Stadium, New Jersey. Tuesday July 9, 8 p.m. ET.

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 (Top photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

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