All the talk ahead of Sunday’s incredible World Cup final between Argentina and France naturally centered on Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, but in the end another name was on everyone’s lips – Emi Martinez.
After 120 thrilling, twisting, turning and emotionally draining minutes and the level of play at 3-3, penalties were needed to determine who would win football’s greatest prize.
As the Argentine takers did their job calmly converting all four of their shots on goal, Martinez stepped in to break the Frenchman’s heart.
Mbappe had scored two penalties in the game so it was no surprise he converted the first in the shootout in France, although Martinez was close to getting his hands on it.
From then on, however, the Aston Villa keeper took center stage.
He again took the right path to deny Kingsley Coman, before the mind games escalated to further upset the French players.
As Aurelien Tchouameni stepped forward for his turn, perhaps already feeling the weight of expectation, Martinez pushed the ball away from the Real Madrid midfield, forcing him to walk to collect it.
There’s a word for such Martinez antics that can’t be stated here, but they had their intended effect when 22-year-old Tchouameni extended his penalty, prompting a dance reminiscent of Alan Pardew’s mesmerizing moves in Crystal Palace FA 2016. Cup final against Manchester United.
It put Argentina within reach of a first World Cup since 1986 and, although Randal Kolo Muani fired France’s next penalty, it only delayed the South Americans’ celebrations when the substitute Gonzalo Montiel scored to get the party started.
“Emi Martinez is a very positive guy and told his team-mates he was going to save some penalties,” Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni revealed.
BBC Sport pundits at the game were also all in agreement that Martinez’s antics played a huge part in the win.
“There’s no doubt he had a massive mental impact in the shootout,” said former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas.
Ex-England striker Alan Shearer added: “He was trying to wrap them up, he was pushing the ball away, he was talking to the players, he was putting as much pressure on them as possible.”
Former England defender Rio Ferdinand said: “Even his movements behind the line, he was moving, trying to get the attention of whoever was kicking the ball.”
The game might not even have ended in a shootout if not for a brilliant save from Martinez in the dying seconds of overtime.
Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konaté kicked the ball forward and Muani ran, only to be denied by Martinez who rushed to close the gap before sprawling to block the finish.
It was one of several important saves Martinez made in Qatar, earning him the tournament’s Golden Glove award for cleanest sheets with three.
He certainly had a big impact in his short time with the national team. Since his debut last year, he has helped Argentina win the Copa America and now the World Cup.
He had to be patient for his career to start. Martinez spent eight years at Arsenal, loaned out six times and played just 11 Premier League games for the Gunners, before joining Villa two years ago and growing in stature.
“I have no words for it. I was calm during the penalty shootout and everything went the way we wanted,” Martinez said after Sunday’s final.
“Everything I dreamed of has come true.”