How elite goalkeeper Memo Ochoa grew to become Mexico’s World Cup hero

If somebody had been to place collectively a spotlight reel of Mexico’s performances within the final three World Cups, it might embrace a great deal of footage of goalkeeper Memo Ochoa.

Right here he’s in 2014, making six saves, together with two from close-range headers from Neymar and Thiago Silva, in a goalless draw with Brazil. There he was in 2018, head over heels in Russia to make 9 saves in opposition to holders Germany in a 1-0 win. And at last, right here he’s in Qatar on Tuesday, diving to Robert Lewandowski’s second-half penalty to earn Mexico a degree in a 0-0 draw with Poland.

“Once we want a reminder, it at all times reveals up,” mentioned defender Jorge Sanchez.

Mexico will definitely want Ochoa on Saturday once they face Lionel Messi and Argentina, who will come out to make an announcement after seeing their 36-game unbeaten run resulted in defeat to Saudi Arabia, probably the most unimaginable upsets within the World Cup historical past.

“We have now a tricky opponent within the subsequent sport, however Mexico can be a tricky opponent,” Ochoa mentioned. “We labored very laborious. We’re ready.”

The final half, the laborious work and preparation, is what allowed Ochoa to play in 5 World Cups. No male goalkeeper has taken half in additional video games.

“For me it is particular as a result of not everybody can go to a World Cup. And to be 5? It is a big quantity, it is historic,” she mentioned. “But it surely’s one thing private. A very powerful factor is the group.”

Mexican goalkeeper Memo Ochoa is on the pitch with teammates after the draw with Poland

Mexico goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, in blue, is on the sphere with teammates after their draw with Poland on the 974 stadium in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday.

(Martin Meissner/Related Press)

Quantity 5 can be vital for the group, although Mexico have reached the final 16 within the final seven World Cups and stopped there each time. Consequently, attending to the quarterfinals and enjoying a fifth match, which El Tri final did in 1986, has lengthy been a nationwide staff pursuit.

And if Mexico will get there this 12 months, it would virtually actually be as a result of their goalkeeper took them there, which is unusual as a result of Ochoa by no means wished to be a goalkeeper.

“I wished to be a striker till a coach advised me: ‘No, go in purpose’,” he mentioned. “They noticed that I did higher in purpose. One other coach advised me the identical factor. And I believed it.”

These two coaches modified the path of Mexican soccer since Ochoa began 132 video games in purpose for Mexico, probably the most as a goalkeeper.

The Guadalajara-born Ochoa made his skilled debut with Membership América in 2003, profitable the Liga MX rookie of the 12 months award that season, then main the membership to the Clausura title the next season.

Óscar Pérez, who began in purpose forward of Ochoa within the 2010 World Cup, says it is that have, which incorporates 12 seasons in Mexico’s Liga MX and one other eight in Europe, that makes Ochoa particular.

“Individuals belief him,” mentioned Pérez, who’s in Qatar working as an analyst for Telemundo. “That is mirrored within the media, amongst his teammates, with the followers. Memo is a frontrunner for all of the years he has performed at a excessive stage. He is a superb skilled and that is essential for his teammates as a result of they see him and he turns into a superb instance.

“First along with his sport, but additionally along with his conduct off the pitch.”

Ochoa takes each roles significantly. He and midfielder Andrés Guardado, additionally in his fifth World Cup, have grow to be an essential asset to Tata Martino, the Argentine-born Mexican coach, who depends on their recommendation to form staff coverage, respect self-discipline and construct chemistry within the locker room.

This has proved essential in a squad that’s Qatar’s second oldest however consists of 16 gamers who’re making their World Cup debuts.

“As an skilled participant, the way in which to assist them is to make them really feel regular, to present them peace of thoughts in order that stress does not work in opposition to them, in order that the Mexican crest on their jersey does not weigh them down.” Ochoa mentioned. “It usually occurs that superb gamers of their golf equipment and within the nation aren’t the identical and you must attempt to unite them and calm them down.”

Ochoa, 37, has additionally aged effectively, lacking lower than a purpose a sport in his final three seasons with Membership América, the very best interval of his profession, whereas profitable an Olympic bronze medal final 12 months in Tokyo. But he shines brightest on an important stage, the World Cup. In his 9 appearances there his teammates gave him simply eight targets, however Mexico have misplaced simply three of these matches.

And that makes Ochoa consider a sixth World Cup in 2026, when the event will likely be shared by Mexico, america and Canada.

“It is not that far,” he mentioned. “Sure, I see myself enjoying skilled soccer and I see myself obtainable for the nationwide staff. It will be very good to finish my profession with a World Cup in Mexico”.