Emi Martinez and his ‘balls of steel’ deliver another sh*thouse shootout masterclass

Dave Tickner
Emi Martinez saves a penalty as Aston Villa beat Lille in a Europa Conference shootout
Emi Martinez, pictured here in his absolute element

Every day’s a school day, isn’t it?

Today, thanks to the prick’s prick Emi Martinez, we’ve learned that yellow cards reset before a penalty shootout. We’re not sure even he knew that, given the look of extreme panic that spread across his face when the referee got the card out again early in this magnificent penalty shootout win for Aston Villa against Lille.

Douglas Luiz definitely didn’t know it, sprinting 50 yards as he did to argue his goalkeeper’s case. A case which was largely non-existent as he continued a war with the French fans that had waged throughout 120 minutes of occasionally exciting but mostly just achingly tense minutes between two teams desperate to take the significant step into a European semi-final.

The 120 minutes of the actual football match here ended up as nothing more than hors d’oeuvres. The shootout was the main event. And that was almost entirely down to Martinez, a man you would want above absolutely any other human on earth in your goal during these moments.

We could run through the goals that led us to the shootout, but there’s no real point. It doesn’t matter. A soporific Villa, understandably but significantly drained by the weekend’s endeavours, were 2-0 down on the night and heading out. They could have had few complaints if they’d been eliminated. Then Matty Cash’s well-struck but deflected strike earned Aston Villa a reprieve they didn’t really deserve after the otherwise exemplary Lucas Chevalier dropped the ball under a challenge from his own player Nabil Bentaleb, who would later be one of Martinez’s two penalty victims as well.

There were three key moments in extra time. Let’s just tick those off before getting to the juicy stuff: a brilliant double save from Chevalier made amends for his earlier mistake, denying Leon Bailey, and then going full Gordon Banks to deny Douglas Luiz on the follow-up. Chevalier was again on the spot to deny Jhon Duran in the final minute.

Between those incidents came a full-throated penalty appeal for handball against Cash. Nobody even pretends to understand handball any more, and this felt one that really could have gone either way. It’s one of the simplest ones, in its own way: it’s Schrodinger’s handball. If it happens against your team, you’d want the penalty. If it’s your man, it’s definitely not a penalty, behave.

The main argument against it being a penalty, though, is that all of us wanted to see Martinez facing five penalties and not just one. We’re greedy and live for drama. We’ll make no apologies.

A penalty shootout is always a Gladiatorial event, but we can’t recall seeing one so thoroughly dominated by one man. The fact it came against French opposition is quite simply very, very funny. The fact it came against French opposition who spent 120 minutes and the entire shootout booing him funnier still. It was all absolutely delicious.

Martinez was warned for housery even before picking up his second yellow card (but not a red one) for what he magnificently would later try to describe as simply asking for his ball back. “Please, mister…”

It’s easy – nay irresistible – to get entirely lost in the Martinez shootout persona because it’s so magnificent. But it’s worth at least acknowledging that he is also a perfect keeper physically and technically for this. He has a huge, goal-filling frame even before the smell of a shootout gets that chest puffed out further. He’s deceptively agile too. We all know what a brilliant shot-stopper he is.

If you were building the perfect keeper for a shootout, you’d just pick Martinez. Loves the one-on-one nature of it. Loves the pressure. Loves the gamesmanship. But has absolutely all the basic keeping attributes to go with all the other stuff. It never felt like this shootout could possibly end in any way other than Martinez dancing away in triumph – albeit at first uncertainly as he glanced at the referee, and even that was magnificent – having made the decisive save.

His first stop in the shootout was a genuinely brilliant one to deny a perfectly respectable penalty from Bentaleb struck low to the keeper’s left but just not quite far enough into the corner. The final penalty was a bit rubbish – not Bernardo bad, but still bad – and once Martinez guessed right this one was a formality for our hero.

We’ve covered games that have gone to penalties plenty of times before. We don’t think we’ve ever written the entire match piece about the penalties before. That is the power of Martinez. ‘He’s got balls of steel’ was the admiring commentary line of the night. He has, you know. And you have to admire those balls.