What Emi Martinez did in front of Lille ultras before kick-off as Aston Villa await Olympiacos semi-final

Aston Villa will play Olympiacos in the Europa Conference League semi-finals
Aston Villa will play Olympiacos in the Europa Conference League semi-finals -Credit:Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu via Getty Images

It was deja vu for French fans, who read that script before. Emi Martinez, public enemy No. 1 and the world’s No.1, saved two penalties in a quarter-final shoot-out against Lille to book Aston Villa’s place in the Europa Conference League semi-finals.

Emulating his penalty heroics from the World Cup and Copa America while playing for Argentina, it was Martinez’s night and that was never in doubt once the referee blew up at the end of the second half of extra-time. Don’t forget about Matty Cash’s 87th minute goal which levelled the tie at the very point in which the match was escaping Villa.

Unai Emery’s side were far from their best in either leg and rode their luck if truth be told, but it’s irrelevant how they do it, it’s about getting the job done. Now, Villa fans can enjoy their first semi-final in a major European competition for the first time since 1982.

READ | Why Emi Martinez wasn't sent off for Aston Villa vs Lille as little-known penalty rule explained

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Here are the talking points after Villa’s penalty shoot-out victory in Lille…


It was written in the stars for Martinez. Villa weren't playing anywhere near their level in the 90 minutes and had to take their one opportunity in the second half when it arrived. So when Cash slammed the ball back through a crowd of bodies, you got the sense that Villa were in the driving seat from thereon.

They knew that if they could take the game to a penalty shoot-out they had a huge advantage over Lille, with arguably the best goalkeeper at penalties. Questions about Martinez and how he would react to the jeers and whistles were first asked last week, in Emery's pre-match press conference for the first leg. But relishes these moments and lives for the opportunity to put his name in lights once more.

Before kick-off, Lille were swapped to face the fan groups behind the goal to Emery's left in the first half. After Villa huddled for their team photograph, Martinez jogged towards the goal as the supporters gave him all sorts of abuse. Facing them next to his post, he took a swig of water and stared right back. He was completely unnerved.

Come the end of the second half of extra time with Martinez in front of the loud base of Lille supporters again, it was almost as if he wanted penalties, knowing he'd perform for his team when they needed him most. In the 117th minute, Pau Torres headed the ball back to Martinez, but the ball was a few yards outside his box. Under no pressure, he casually dribbled back into his area and waited for Jonathan David to close him down before he grabbed the ball. It must've wasted at least 20 seconds as the clock ticked down.


After full-time, the Villa players lapped up the travelling fans, packed in the top tier at the opposite side of the stadium to which Martinez had saved Nabil Bentaleb and Benjamin Andre's penalties.

"I love this football club and playing in a semi-final for them, it is incredible," Martinez told Villa TV. "My career just keeps going up and up. You need to celebrate little victories. After 42 years we are in a European semi-final. It's incredible.

"The fans should give us a lift on Sunday against Bournemouth, people will be tired so we need the home fans to give us a boost to go again.

"I get motivated with the fans when they throw stuff on my back. All my life has been throwing stuff on my back and I always get up. It gives my fuel to perform.

"We want to go all the way. That's the message we just sent now: 'we're going all the way, we're going all the way'. We need to have that mentality of when we have to go away we need to secure the game at home."


‘We’re all going to Athens’ has rung around most Premier League stadiums from the away end this season, and Villa fans were right, they will be heading for Greece at least once next month. Olympiacos await Villa in for the semi-finals after they also progressed to the final four by winning a penalty shoot-out away from home, at Fenerbahce.

The Greek club were knocked out of the Europa League earlier this season after finishing in their group, behind West Ham, Freiburg and ahead of Backa Topola. They beat the Hammers 2-1 at home, but lost 1-0 away.

After overcoming Ferencvaros 2-0 on aggregate in the Europa Conference League knockout play-offs, they made an improbable recovery to then get past Maccabi Tel Aviv. Despite losing 4-1 at home to the Israeli club, Jose Luis Mendilibar's side won 6-1 away. They looked dead and buried in European competition after the first leg.

John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Youri Tielemans, Moussa Diaby and Matty Cash were all one booking away from missing the semi-final first leg, but did not collect their third cautions of the competition and will therefore be fine to feature. However, Villa believe that Martinez will miss the first leg of the semi-final after he picked up three yellow cards before the semi-final stage.

Unai Emery
Unai Emery -Credit:Photo by Matthieu Mirville/BSR Agency/Getty Images


Emery was quick to give Lille the credit they deserved after two excellent performances, home and away. The nullified Villa in the second leg, reducing them to only a few shots at goal before Cash's strike. In the first half Villa didn't manage to get a single effort away.

"Lille played very well in the first half and took a deserved advantage. But we knew this was always a possibility. They've been successful at home for a long time. We had the advantage from the first leg, so we had to be resilient and wait for our moment, and we did it."

He added: "There's always luck involved in a penalty shoot-out. In the end, we won, but we accept that it was very difficult. Congratulations to Lille because they played and competed very well."

Speaking about Villa's domestic and European ambitions: "That was my objective when I arrived here. I spoke about trying to increase our level in the Premier League, and we've gradually been getting better. And we want to be present in Europe. Conference League, Europa League... hopefully we can play in the Champions League with Aston Villa. We have to enjoy the moment we are having, try to build our experience and work hard to get more."


Villa bagged four of their five penalties after Youri Tielemans put them on their way by stroking the ball past Lucas Chevalier.

"I always try to stay calm and prepare myself mentally," the Belgian said. "When I'm walking up to the ball, I know what I'm going to do. I try to take a deep breath, step up and put it away."

He added: "We've got a huge semi-final ahead of us against Olympiacos. Two big games. And in the Premier League we really want to keep hold of fourth place and reach the Champions League. We'll try to finish the season on a high note."

After Tielemans scored and Bentaleb missed, Ollie Watkins converted after a long wait while Martinez was being booked and there was no ball to actually take the spot-kick with for a period of time. Then, Matty Cash made it 3-1 to Villa, before Bailey missed, allowing Lille back in the shoot-out at 4-4. Luiz stepped forward to pile the pressure on Andre, who succumbed to exactly that as Martinez sent Villa on their way to the final four.


"Over the two games I think he was decisive," Lille boss Paulo Fonseca admitted. "He is a great goalkeeper. In the first game we had a couple of real opportunities and he made some great saves. Today, in the penalty shoot-out. He's a great goalkeeper, that's all I can say.

Asked about the goalkeeper's behaviour, Fonseca said: "No, that doesn't matter. His behaviour - I want to talk about the game only. I'm really proud of my players, really proud of what we did in both games. Everyone agrees with me when I say we deserved to go through. But football is like this. They were better in the shootout and we have to accept it.

"I haven't seen many teams perform like we did against Aston Villa, even in the Premier League. We dominated two games and created so many good chances. Today we won the game. I think it would have been difficult to do better."

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