Lille 2-1 Aston Villa (agg 3-3, 3-4 on pens): Emiliano Martinez is the hero despite receiving second yellow card in chaotic penalty shoot-out… as Unai Emery’s side book place in Europa Conference League semi-finals

Emi Martinez might be the world’s finest goalkeeper but in years to come the Aston Villa star may regret some of the ludicrous antics that detract from his enormous talent.

The Argentina star produced more penalty shoot-out heroics to keep Aston Villa on track for a first major trophy since 1996. 

Martinez broke French hearts with his saves for Argentina against France in the 2022 World Cup Final shoot-out, and he did so again here.

Using the catcalls from the Lille fans to inspire him, Martinez saved kicks from Nabil Bentaleb and Benjamin Andre to send Villa into the last four of the Europa Conference League – the first time they have been this far in Europe since winning the European Cup in 1982.

Yet some of Martinez’s behaviour was awful. After saving Lille’s opening spot-kick from Nabil Bentaleb, Martinez turned to the Lille fans and held his finger to his lips. 

Those who threw missiles towards him are worthy of even greater condemnation. Martinez was then shown a second yellow card of the evening during penalties, though he could not be sent off as bookings shown during general play do not carry over to the spot-kicks.

Perhaps Martinez was playing for penalties all along. His bizarre timewasting in the first half, when the aggregate score was level, earned him a booking. After goals in either half from Yusuf Yazici and Benjamin Andre, Lille looked to be heading through – only for Matty Cash’s deflected strike two minutes from full-time to send the match into an extra 30 minutes.

Yet Villa boss Unai Emery will know his team got away with it here. They were as poor here as they had been impressive in winning 2-0 at Arsenal last Sunday and a big improvement is needed in the semi-finals.

The duel between Martinez and the Virage Est, the area behind the goal housing Lille’s most vocal supporters, was as interesting as the game itself.

The Argentina goalkeeper was berated from the moment he arrived for the warm up and from that moment he seemed intent on winding up the fans even more.

Martinez nearly gave the Lille fans what they wanted when he flapped at Yazici’s corner, just managing to push the ball away from the advancing Gabriel Gudmundsson. Whenever he had the ball, Martinez took an age to move it on – inviting the Lille fans to scream at him time and again.

They were screaming with joy in the 15th minute when Lille levelled the tie on aggregate. Gudmundsson’s excellent first-time cross caught Villa on their heels and Yazici produced a low, controlled finish that gave Martinez no chance.

Martinez then kept his side level when Benjamin Andre’s point-blank header from Yazici’s free-kick hit him in the face and went wide. To the fury of the Lille end, Martinez then lay on his back inside the goal, his hand on the top of his head. As the players waited for the corner, Nicolo Zaniolo had to come off with what looked like a back problem, with Morgan Rogers replacing the Italian.

Aston Villa defender Matty Cash scored in the 87th minute to force extra-time

Aston Villa defender Matty Cash scored in the 87th minute to force extra-time

Just after the half-hour mark, Martinez got on the Lille fans’ nerves again as he sunk to his knees, pouring water over his face, before taking a goal-kick.

Eventually, referee Ivan Kruzliak had seen enough and booked the Villa goalkeeper six minutes before half-time – utterly brainless from Martinez with Lille a goal up. There was a small improvement from Villa before the break as Matty Cash – subsequently flagged offside – had a great chance saved by Lucas Chevalier. The temperature was rising on the touchline too and Lille boss Paulo Fonseca was booked along with a member of the Villa coaching team.

The visitors needed to wake up but when the second half began, they nearly conceded within 30 seconds. Youri Tielemans dozed on the ball and had his pocket picked by Hakon Haraldsson, who fired wide from 20 yards. At the other end, Cash collected a clever return pass from John McGinn and found the side netting when he should have hit the target.

Lille were playing with even greater intensity in the second half than they had before the interval and when the second goal arrived it was no surprise. Haraldsson’s corner swerved in towards the near post and Andre rose to flick it home off the far post.

That was the cue for Unai Emery to introduce Leon Bailey for the disappointing Moussa Diaby. It had been a surprise to see Bailey left on the bench, though the heavy strapping on his left knee perhaps provided the answer.

Bailey was lively but Villa still struggled to change gear, though Chevalier made a mess of a long range effort from Cash as time ticked by. Emery’s men could not make the corner count and when the ball broke to Bailey on the edge of the box soon afterwards, his effort was too close to Chevalier.

Yet somehow Villa’s luck turned. Chevalier was sure he was fouled when he leaped to collect Ollie Watkins’ cross, but the officials allowed play to continue and when the ball broke to Cash 25 yards out, his fierce strike hit the back of the net via a deflection. Replays showed the decision was correct as Chevalier had actually collided with team-mate Nabil Bentaleb, causing him to drop the ball.

Lille were furious that the goal was not overturned but it gave Villa – who had looked to be heading out – renewed impetus.

But in the first half of extra-time, Chevalier redeemed himself with a remarkable stop. He pushed Bailey’s shot into the path of Douglas Luiz, then somehow managed to regain his balance to claw the Brazilian’s header over the bar. 

Benjamin Andre scored Lille's second goal with a header from a corner in the 67th minute

Benjamin Andre scored Lille’s second goal with a header from a corner in the 67th minute

Lile midfielder Yusuf Yazici levelled the tie with a superb finish in the 15th minute

Lile midfielder Yusuf Yazici levelled the tie with a superb finish in the 15th minute

Aston Villa forward Nicolo Zaniolo hobbled off after a challenge in the first-half

Aston Villa forward Nicolo Zaniolo hobbled off after a challenge in the first-half

Emiliano Martinez was down briefly after saving Andre's close-range header with his face

Emiliano Martinez was down briefly after saving Andre’s close-range header with his face

Villa boss Unai Emery and Lille's Paulo Fonseca were booked after an angry exchange

Villa boss Unai Emery and Lille’s Paulo Fonseca were booked after an angry exchange

In the second period it was Lille’s turn to go close as Tiago Santos’ angled drive flashed just wide. 

Lille were frustrated once more when they demanded a penalty after a cross hit Cash’s hand but the Villa man was given the benefit of the doubt. 

By now Martinez was clearly playing for penalties as he kept the ball at his feet to run down the clock – and no Lille player had the energy to close him down. In the final minute of extra-time, Chevalier bailed out the home side again, stopping substitute Jhon Duran’s first-time strike with his foot.

Then came the penalties. Martinez saved from Nabil Bentaleb and was later booked. Chevalier stopped Leon Bailey’s kick to square it up but when Martinez denied Andre, Villa were in the semis.

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