How elite goalie Memo Ochoa turned 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 number of footage of goalkeeper Memo Ochoa.

There he was in 2014, making six saves — together with two on close-in headers from Neymar and Thiago Silva — in a scoreless draw with Brazil. There he was in 2018, standing on his head in Russia to make 9 saves towards defending champion Germany in a 1-0 win. And eventually, there he was Tuesday in Qatar, making a diving cease on Robert Lewandowski’s second-half penalty kick to earn Mexico some extent in a scoreless draw with Poland.

“When we need Memo, he always shows up,” defender Jorge Sanchez mentioned.

Mexico will definitely want Ochoa on Saturday when it faces Lionel Messi and Argentina, who might be out to make a press release after seeing their 36-match unbeaten streak led to a loss to Saudi Arabia, one of the crucial beautiful upsets in World Cup historical past.

“We have a tough opponent in the next game, but Mexico is also a tough opponent,” Ochoa mentioned. “We’ve worked really hard. We’ve prepared ourselves.”

The final half, the working laborious and being ready half, is what has allowed Ochoa to play in 5 World Cups. No male goalkeeper has taken half in additional.

“For me it’s special because not everyone can go to a World Cup. And to be in five? It’s a big number, it is historic,” he mentioned. “But it is something personal. The most important thing is the group.”

Mexico goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, in blue, stands with teammates on the pitch after a draw with Poland at Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.

(Martin Meissner / Related Press)

The quantity 5 can be vital for the group although since Mexico has made it to the spherical of 16 within the final seven World Cups and has stalled there every time. Because of this, attending to the quarterfinals and taking part in a fifth recreation, one thing El Tri final did in 1986, has lengthy been a quest of the nationwide crew.

And if Mexico will get there this yr, it’s going to nearly actually be as a result of its goalkeeper carried it there — which is odd as a result of Ochoa by no means needed to be a goalie.

“I wanted to be a striker until a coach told me, ‘No, you go to goal,’ ” he mentioned. “They saw I did better in goal. Another coach told me the same thing. And I believed it.”

These two coaches modified the course of Mexican soccer since Ochoa has gone to start out 132 video games in purpose for Mexico, most ever by a keeper.

Ochoa, who was born in Guadalajara, made his skilled debut with Membership América in 2003, profitable the Liga MX rookie-of-the-year award that season, then main the membership to the Clausura title within the subsequent one.

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

“People have confidence in him,” mentioned Pérez, who’s in Qatar working as an analyst for Telemundo. “That’s reflected in the media, among his teammates, with the fans. Memo’s a leader because of all the years he’s played a top level. He’s a great professional and that’s important for his teammates because they see that, and he becomes a good example.

“First with his play, but also with his behavior off the field.”

Ochoa is taking each roles critically. He and midfielder Andrés Guardado, who can be taking part in in his fifth World Cup, have turn into vital property for Tata Martino, Mexico’s Argentine-born coach, who depends on their recommendation when setting crew coverage, meting out self-discipline and constructing chemistry within the dressing room.

That’s proved vital on a crew that’s the second-oldest in Qatar, but contains 16 gamers who’re making their World Cup debuts.

“As one of the experienced players, the way to help them is to make them feel normal, give them peace of mind so that the stress does not work against them, so that the Mexican crest on their shirt does not weigh them down,” Ochoa mentioned. “It often happens that players who are very good in their clubs and in the national team are not the same and you have to try to bring them together and calm them.”

Ochoa, 37, has additionally aged effectively, giving up lower than a purpose a recreation over his final three seasons with Membership América, the most effective stretch of his profession, whereas profitable an Olympic bronze medal final yr in Tokyo. But he shines brightest on the largest stage, the World Cup. In his 9 begins there his teammates have given him simply eight objectives, but Mexico has misplaced solely three of these video games.

And that has Ochoa pondering of a sixth World Cup in 2026, when the event might be shared by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s not that far away,” he mentioned. “Yes, I see myself playing professional soccer and I see myself available for the national team. It would be very nice to close my career with a World Cup in Mexico.”