Lionel Messi has called Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez a “phenomenon” after his penalty shootout heroics for Argentina.
Martinez made three saves as Argentina beat Columbia on penalties to set up a Copa America final against arch-rivals Brazil.
The 28-year-old followed up a brilliant season in the Premier League for Aston Villa by becoming the Albiceleste’s latest hero.
Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring in the first half, with Messi setting up the Inter Milan striker, before Luis Diaz forced the shootout with a 61st-minute strike for Colombia.
However, Argentina’s goalkeeper came out on top in the penalty shootout.
“We have Emi, who is a phenomenon,” said Messi. “We trusted him. We achieved the goal of being able to play all the games and now we are going to the final.”
Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni added on Martinez: “We are very happy with Emiliano’s performance, not only because of the penalties, but also because of the security that he is transmitting. The group of defenders is permanently supported and we like that.”
Martinez swapped Arsenal for Aston Villa last summer after finding himself behind Bernd Leno in the pecking order at the Emirates Stadium.
And back in March, he admitted that he didn’t think Arsenal deserved him, he told Sky Sports: “I love everything about Arsenal. I still love them and I’m still watching the games, but I just felt like they didn’t trust me like they should have.
“That’s the reality because they kept buying goalkeepers to go in front of me and I was the goalkeeper from the academy.
“When I was on a high, I still felt like they didn’t deserve me because of the way they were treating me. They couldn’t guarantee me the games I needed so I thought that if they couldn’t guarantee me the games I needed, then I’m moving on.
“They didn’t say to me that I wasn’t going to play, they just didn’t guarantee me the games that I wanted to play.
“So, after 10 years, I decided to leave, and it was very difficult. My family didn’t understand why I was leaving when I was at such a good level at Arsenal, but it was my decision to leave and I’m really proud I did it.
“It was a gamble, but I always believe that if you stay in the comfort zone, you will never reach anything in life. I decided to take the step up.”