Lionel Messi’s Argentina will face Brazil in the Copa America final after overcoming Colombia in a dramatic penalty shoot-out thanks to Emiliano Martinez.
With no extra time, penalties were needed after Luis Diaz equalised in the 61st minute to cancel out Lautaro Martinez’s first-half opener in Brasilia on Tuesday.
Emiliano Martinez was the hero in the shoot-out after the Argentina goalkeeper saved three spot-kicks to send the 14-time Copa winners – eyeing their first major title since 1993 – through to Saturday’s blockbuster decider against defending champions Brazil.
Messi, who is craving his first senior crown with La Albiceleste, was brilliant from the outset, the superstar dancing past three players before picking out Lautaro Martinez, but the latter’s header sailed just wide of the post in the fourth minute.
Martinez got his goal three minutes later, however, after drilling home past David Ospina – Messi with the presence of mind to twist away from Yerry Mina before lifting his head and finding the Inter star.
Colombia almost celebrated an immediate response, though Emiliano Martinez was on hand to deny Juan Cuadrado – earning his 100th cap – just moments later.
As has so often been the case during the tournament, Argentina fell away following a bright start and Colombia were unfortunate not to equalise.
Colombia came within a whisker of restoring parity in the 37th minute, hitting the woodwork twice within seconds after Mina’s header rattled the crossbar from the resulting corner following Wilmar Barrios’ deflected shot that struck the post.
On the stroke of half-time, Argentina went close to doubling their lead after Nicolas Gonzalez’s header was narrowly pushed onto the roof of the net by Ospina.
Colombia responded well to falling behind and they were eventually rewarded via Diaz’s equaliser just past the hour-mark.
Diaz got in behind Argentina’s defence following a quick free-kick and the winger somehow managed to beat Emiliano Martinez from an acute angle as Lionel Scaloni’s men were caught napping.
Colombia were fortunate to still be on level terms when Ospina came flying out of his penalty area as substitute Angel Di Maria charged through, but Barrios was on hand to make the last-ditch goal-line block, denying Lautaro Martinez in the 73rd minute.
Messi then saw his shot hit the woodwork with nine minutes remaining during a tense finale as the showdown headed to penalties.
What does it mean? Argentina a step closer to drought-ending triumph
It has been a tough period for Argentina after runners-up performances at the Copa America in 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016, to go with second place at the 2018 World Cup. But the South American powerhouse have the chance to end years of pain after moving through to the final.
Argentina are 19 games unbeaten, a run dating back to the 2019 Copa semi-final against rivals Brazil.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With the match on the line, Emiliano Martinez came up big for Argentina when they needed him most, denying Davinson Sanchez, Mina and Edwin Cardona in the shoot-out. It was the third shoot-out between Argentina and Colombia in Copa history, with the former winning all of them.
Messi a treat to watch
The country’s record scorer and appearance maker, Messi was irresistible for Argentina. He supplied his fifth assist of the tournament, to go with four goals.
Messi also finished with a team-high five key passes and a joint team-best three shots against Colombia. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner also boasted a 100 per cent passing accuracy in the opening half.
South American foes Brazil and Argentina will go head-to-head at the Maracana for CONMEBOL supremacy on Saturday, while Colombia face Peru in the third-place play-off on Friday.
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