It was a version of Lionel Messi we don’t often see.
One of the world’s greatest players is rarely caught in emotional outbursts, but the penalty-kick shootout to decide Argentina’s semifinal against Colombia did it.
After Colombia’s Yerry Mina saw his attempt stopped by Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, Messi celebrated it at the center circle with his teammates. “Dance now! Dance now!” is what the lip readers spotted him saying in reference to an extended dance that Mina did in a penalty shootout win over Uruguay in the previous quarterfinal round.
To think that Messi and Mina were teammates at FC Barcelona before Mina’s move to Everton in England in 2018.
Here was Mina’s aforementioned dance after he scored against Uruguay:
The PK shootout between Argentina and Colombia was necessary to decide a 1-1 tie and Argentina pulled off the win 3-2, thanks to three saves on five attempts by its goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who will also be remembered for his antics.
’Keeper trash-talks during PK shootout
There was a ton of pressure on Argentina in this match. With Brazil advancing to the Copa America final the day before, it was up to Argentina to get past its semifinal to set up the heavyweight showdown all the neutrals wanted to see. And the Argentines were pulling out all the stops to make sure they won this game.
Martinez, Argentina’s goalkeeper, was trash-talking the Colombians on every kick. Up until the player made contact with the ball. Most referees would have probably warned the ‘keeper or even carded him, but Martinez got away with it on every kick, including on Mina’s.
When the broadcasters weren’t talking over it, we were able to hear most of it since there are no fans permitted at Copa America matches:
“You’re nervous … Looks like the ball is ahead [of the PK spot] … I know you. I know where you like it [shooting the ball] … Don’t be a dummy … I’m going to stop you.”
Martinez did this on every kick. And he added an explicit celebration thrust after the Mina save to really put the exclamation mark on it. It’s no wonder that the next Colombian kicker, Miguel Borja, did a little jig himself to annoy Martinez.
It worked for Martinez. Three saves by a goalkeeper in a shootout is so rare, it’s considered heroic.
Mina’s dancing, Messi’s reactions and Martinez’s trash-talking aren’t exactly prime examples of sportsmanship, but they’re so very human. The penalty-kick shootout is one of the most pressure-packed situations in the sport, especially when the stakes are this high. And in Messi’s case there was a lot more riding on the game from a personal standpoint.
Messi has to hear about it at every major international tournament with Argentina’s senior team: Lionel Messi can’t win the big one with Argentina. For all his greatness, he’s never led them to a trophy. He can’t win outside Barcelona.
Messi is 34. If he fails to deliver at this Copa America, the next opportunity will be the 2022 World Cup and then followed by the 2024 Copa America. He’ll be turning 37 that year.
You can tell how bad he wants this Copa America by his play on the field. Opta picked up on his tournament-high 15.7 duels per game average at the event. That number ballooned to 26 against Colombia.
And he played on a bloody ankle after a brutal challenge he suffered in the second half. He had the bloody sock to show for it:
Here was the video of the tackle Messi suffered and highlights from the rest of his game. By the way, he absolutely nailed his penalty kick to start the shootout for Argentina.
And now he’ll be facing another former Barcelona teammate in the final: Neymar and archrivals Brazil. And it was Neymar who gave us more of the unconventional sports behavior from the Copa America: Before the Argentina vs. Colombia semifinal, he said he wanted to face Argentina in the final. He actually answered the “who do you want to face” question. And he called out Brazil’s nemesis.
Saturday’s going to be good. And the dynamic changes. The pressure now shifts to the Brazilians, who will be playing at home and expected to win. Messi and Argentina can play a little looser without the favorite tag and could even spring the surprise.
Until Saturday, enjoy the full highlight package from that Argentina vs. Colombia semifinal:
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