How Emiliano Martinez’s mind games created penalty shootout glory for Argentina

Emiliano Martinez saves the shot of French striker #20 Kingsley Coman during the penalty shootout – Jewel Samad /AFP

Argentina produced a masterclass in Sunday’s penalty shootout win over France. At the heart of their performance was the psychological game played by goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who overpowered the French penalty takers and forced two crucial misses.

Martinez immediately took possession of the penalty area, while Hugo Lloris, the goalkeeper and France captain, still completed the draw at the halfway line. When Lloris went to the penalty box, it was as if Martinez was welcoming a visitor into his home.

As Hugo Lloris makes the draw, his counterpart, Martinez, already dominates the penalty area - Twitter

As Hugo Lloris makes the draw, his counterpart, Martinez, already dominates the penalty area – Twitter

Part of Martinez’s approach is to be warm and friendly with his opponents early on – he initiated handshakes with Lloris and Kylian Mbappe. This can cause his opponents to let their guard down, leaving them more vulnerable when he strikes later. Ambiguity is abusive in itself, and is part of its strategy.

Martinez was polite and friendly to his opponents as the shootout began - Twitter

Martinez was polite and friendly to his opponents as the shootout began – Twitter

Before Mbappe’s penalty, the first for France, Martinez’s attempts to disrupt his opponent were low-key and subtle. At this early stage in the shootout, he was probably looking to get a feel for the referee and see how far he would be able to push his distraction techniques. Before Mbappe took the shot, Martinez urged the referee to check that the ball was placed correctly on the spot.

Referee responds to Martinez bid by checking ball was placed correctly on the spot before Kylian Mbappe penalty - Twitter

Referee responds to Martinez bid by checking ball was placed correctly on the spot before Kylian Mbappe penalty – Twitter

For the second penalty, Martinez pushed further and again managed to force the referee to check the placement of the ball. All of this added to the feeling that the Argentine keeper had perfect control of the penalty area.

Research shows that intense celebrations can significantly impact shootouts, positively impact teammates, and negatively affect opponents. Wild celebrations signal confidence, dominance and superiority, and Martinez reacted exuberantly – punching the air and spreading his arms wide – after saving Kingsley Coman’s effort.

Martinez lets everyone know how happy he is to have saved Kingsley Coman's attempt - Twitter

Martinez lets everyone know how happy he is to have saved Kingsley Coman’s attempt – Twitter

By the time Aurélien Tchouaméni stepped in to take France’s third penalty, Martinez was confident in what he could and couldn’t get away with. At this point, he was no longer interested in being subtle.

First, he left with the ball. As the referee and Tchouaméni waited for him to return it, he took his time and urged the Argentinian fans to make as much noise as possible. Instead of giving the ball to Tchouaméni, he then throws it, forcing the French midfielder to go for it.

The disrespect is plain and obvious and there are no penalties from the referee – reaffirming the feeling that Martinez is in charge. When Tchouaméni is finally ready, Martinez gives him a smile. The shot misses.

Subtlety is long gone as Martinez decides throwing the ball is his way of handling the run to Aurélien Tchouaméni's kick - Twitter

Subtlety is long gone as Martinez decides throwing the ball is his way of handling the run to Aurélien Tchouaméni’s kick – Twitter

In order to prevent Lloris from adopting a similar approach to the Argentine players, Martinez quickly grabs the ball and passes it to teammate Leandro Paredes. Once again, it’s proof of the Aston Villa goalkeeper’s proactive thinking.

Martinez gives the ball to Paredes - Twitter

Martinez gives the ball to Paredes – Twitter

Before France’s fourth penalty, taken by Randal Kolo Muani, Martinez appeared to communicate and gesture with a member of staff on the touchlines. Several times, he leans towards Kolo Muani saying to him: “I watched you!”

Frenchman Randal Kolo Muani is greeted with even more mind games as Martinez shouts:

Frenchman Randal Kolo Muani is greeted with even more mind games as Martinez shouts, “I’ve been watching you!” -Twitter

For this last act, the Argentinian goalkeeper is warned but it's too late for the French - Twitter

For this last act, the Argentinian goalkeeper is warned but it’s too late for the French – Twitter

For this, Martinez is finally reserved. From France’s point of view, however, it is too late. The Argentinian keeper has already won, thanks to his unpredictable and calculated mind games. He is the Machiavelli of football and he has inspired others to copy him and even create counter-attacks against him. He’ll be curious to see how his antics on the biggest stage in the world affect shootouts in the future.

Geir Jordet is a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Science and the world’s leading penalty shootout researcher

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