Argentina World Cup winner Emiliano Martínez was destined for big things admits Danny Lafferty

Former Derry City defender Danny Lafferty knew that Emiliano Martínez was destined for great things.

While Lionel Messi rightfully grabbed all the headlines, Argentina's number one played a major role in the South American's securing their third World Cup.

The Derry man played alongside Martínez when they both were on-loan at Rotherham United during the 2015-16 season and he concedes Martinez was a top drawer goalkeeper and couldn't believe he was playing in the Championship.

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"There was no doubt he was an unbelievable keeper when he came to Rotherham United," he insisted.

"Us as players we were kind of in awe and wondering 'how have we got this lad', because he was top quality.

"He came in on-loan from Arsenal and for him it was about getting game time and stuff like that. Playing in the Championship also meant it was a decent enough standard for him and as we were at the wrong end of the table, it meant he was going to get plenty of work.

"We were both on-loan at Rotherham and we joined near enough at the same time and I have to say if Rotherham hadn’t signed him they might not have had a chance of staying up that year. He contributed a lot that season.

"I think he left Argentina in his teens to move to England and his English was unbelievable. Our dressing room was basically full of UK based players, but he fitted in well and was a good character around the place.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez played a major role in Argentina's World Cup success in Qatar. Picture by Neil Hall/PA Wire.

"Look you obviously could never say he would be a World Cup winner with Argentina, but I would have fancied him to go ahead and play at a higher level.

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"I always followed him and was delighted when he broke through at Arsenal and got game time there and then he obviously got a move to Aston Villa and plays now week in, week out and is one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League.”

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The 33-year-old was convinced that while Martínez was rightfully getting praised for his saves during the penalty shoot-out wins over the Netherlands and France, it was his stunning save to deny French substitute Randal Kolo Muani deep into stoppage time in extra-time, in Sunday’s final, which impressed the ex-Northern Ireland international more but also didn’t surprise him.

"He obviously has improved massively since playing regularly with Aston Villa and every part of his game is outstanding and while I was never one for taking penalties after training, I can't remember him making penalty saves during his time at Rotherham, but one thing that I do remember was his shot stopping," Lafferty insisted.

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"When someone went through on goal, normally you would think 'oh no that's a goal', but not with him, you would think 'no he'll save this, so follow in', he always seemed to get something on it and you seen that in the 123rd minute when Kolo Muani went through, he makes and unbelievably save. He's basically single-handedly won them the World Cup in a sense, because that save was as good as a goal.

"Messi won the World Cup at one end and big Emiliano won it at the other end of the pitch. They were the two big players for Argentina throughout the World Cup. Emiliano really was unreal."