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Argentina reached the semi-finals of the Copa America, beating Ecuador 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

HOUSTON: Emiliano Martinez salvaged Argentina’s bid for a second straight Copa America title after the Albiceleste conceded an equalizer against Ecuador in stoppage time.

Martinez stopped shots from Angel Mena and Alan Minda as Argentina progressed to the semi-finals of the Copa America with a 4-2 victory on penalties after a 1-1 draw on Thursday night.

“I wasn’t ready to go home,” Martinez said. “This team deserved to be promoted. They made it very difficult for us. They played a great game, very physical. We knew they were one of the best rivals in the Copa America.”

Lionel Messi, back from a leg injury that kept him out of Argentina’s group stage final, headed the Albiceleste’s first penalty off the bar, but the Albiceleste recovered and Nicolas Otamendi beat Alexandre Domínguez with the winner.

“Our goalkeeper did it,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said through an interpreter.

Looking for its third consecutive major title, Argentina reached the semifinals of its fifth straight Copa America and will play either Venezuela or Canada in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Tuesday. Argentina is aiming to win a record 16th Copa America.

Playing in front of 69,456 pro-Argentine fans at the NRG Stadium, Lisandro Martinez put the Albiceleste ahead in the 35th minute after Messi’s corner kick.

Ecuador’s Enner Valencia scored a penalty in the 62nd minute after a handball from Rodrigo De Paulo, but Kevin Rodríguez equalized in the first minute of added time in the second half.

With Argentina first in the shootout, Messi’s attempt from Panenko hit the crossbar.

Martínez, the goalkeeper in Argentina’s shootout victory over France in the 2022 World Cup final, stopped Meno by diving to his left and hitting the ball with his back hand. He denied Mindo with a leaping right, then followed up the defense with a short dance.

Julian Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister converted to give Argentina a 2-0 lead, while John Yeboah scored Ecuador’s third try.

Gonzalo Montiel put Argentina 3-1 up, Jordy Caicedo converted for Ecuador to keep life alive, and Otamendi won when he slotted the ball into the post just past the outstretched arm of Dominguez.

Despite the victory, Scaloni said he “didn’t enjoy the victory”.

“We’ve reached the semi-finals and given the excellent level of performance from each team I think it’s a great achievement,” he said.

Lisandro Martinez put Argentina ahead in the 35th minute with a header after Mac Allister headed in Messi’s corner. Rodríguez scored from John Yeboah’s header.

“In the quarter-finals we played against the toughest opponent and I thought we did well,” Ecuador coach Félix Sanchez Bas said through an interpreter. “We showed that this team can compete with any opponent.”

In accordance with Copa America regulations, the match went straight to a shootout without extra time from the end of regular time.

Messi, who was injured on June 25 against Chile, received a standing ovation when he stepped onto the pitch 45 minutes before kick-off. He remained scoreless in Cope’s three matches this year.

“I think he finished the game well,” Scaloni said. “Four minutes before the end we asked him for the last time how he was feeling.”

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