Argentina's new No.1 Martinez set for Copa America showdown against Suarez and Cavani

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It took barely a week for Emiliano Martinez to receive his formal introduction to the rough-and-tumble world of South American football.

Prior to his Argentina debut against Chile on June 3, the Aston Villa goalkeeper had held the curious distinction of never having played a competitive professional game in his home nation.

He was just 18 when he left boyhood club Independiente for Arsenal, meaning that clash in Santiago del Estero was his first taste of action in Argentina. And in the second World Cup qualifier, Colombia defender Yerry Mina made sure that he left his mark on the shot-stopper.

Martinez was almost knocked out cold when his head bounced off the Barranquilla turf after a strong challenge from the Everton man, who received a booking. “Just part of the game, Yerry,” Martinez subsequently wrote on Instagram, excusing his opponent for his actions.

He could play no further part in the game, which finished in a 2-2 draw after replacement Agustin Marchesin conceded twice, but he fortunately escaped serious injury and now appears the undisputed choice between the posts for the Albiceleste.

“I'm better now, but it was a hard hit,” he told TyC Sports following that game. “The doctors did their job, I was angry at having to go off and I've only just found out we tied right at the end. So, it leaves a bit of a bitter taste.”

Martinez was one of the revelations of the Premier League season in 2020-21, shining for Aston Villa following his move from Arsenal and playing all 38 games as the Birmingham side took a respectable 11th place in their second campaign back in the top flight.

Even so, were it not for a succession of positive Covid-19 tests for Argentina's first choice, River Plate keeper Franco Armani, the 28-year-old might have been watching June's World Cup qualifiers and the Copa America from the bench.

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As it happened, he has taken full advantage of his unexpected opportunity, proving that he is without a doubt the Albiceleste's finest all-round No.1 right now.

The ex-Gunner has impressed hugely in his first three international appearances, particularly in the air, where his comfort in coming off the line and claiming crosses has instilled new calm into an Argentina backline which tends towards the nervous and accident-prone even at the best of times.

On Monday, in Argentina's Copa America opener, he was equal to almost everything Chile could muster after Lionel Messi's exquisite free-kick gave the Albiceleste the lead.

He even made a fine save to stop Arturo Vidal from the penalty spot, although he was then guilty along with the rest of his side in pleading for a non-existent infraction as Eduardo Vargas came from nowhere to convert the rebound and earn Chile a 1-1 draw.

Martinez's biggest challenge to date looms on Friday. Uruguay make their own Copa debut with both Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez cleared to start.

While the return of the brilliant Atalanta defender Cristian Romero will shore up the Argentina backline somewhat, it could still be a busy evening in Brasilia for their last line of defence.

Emi Martinez Edinson Cavani Aston Villa Manchester UnitedGFX

“Beating Uruguay is vital for morale,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Three points would give us hope and joy ahead of the quarters. We are facing a big rival and beating them would be a bonus, but if we can't, we have to understand the Copa is a marathon, not a sprint.

“We have already been looking at some bits from Uruguay. Aside from the danger from Suarez and Cavani, they are a team who don't change their 4-4-2 and try to come out quickly on the counter.

“We have a clear playing idea, which is going well when we attack, but we can't kill off games.”

The shot-stopper knows a thing or two about marathons and biding his time.

It took Martinez four years to make his Arsenal debut following that move from Independiente, and he had made just 15 appearances in a decade before he finally got the chance to impress as injured Bernd Leno's deputy towards the end of the 2019-20 season – a run which earned him the chance to pursue regular first-team action at Villa Park.

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At international level, meanwhile, he received his first call-up from Sergio Batista as an unused substitute in June 2011 for a bizarre 4-1 friendly defeat at the hands of Nigeria; most notable for the erratic refereeing of Ibrahim Chaibou, who two years ago was banned for life by FIFA on charges of bribery and corruption.

Not until eight years later did an Argentina coach, Lionel Scaloni, call on Martinez again, and his debut eventually arrived this June, almost 10 years to the day since his first squad inclusion.

Now, though, it looks like he is here to stay, and another fine performance to frustrate Suarez and Cavani would leave his position secure as the Albiceleste No.1 for months and years to come.