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 will embrace loads 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.

“After we want Memo, he at all times exhibits up,” defender Jorge Sanchez stated.

Mexico will definitely want Ochoa on Saturday when it faces Lionel Messi and Argentina, who shall be out to make an announcement after seeing their 36-match unbeaten streak led to a loss to Saudi Arabia, some of the gorgeous upsets in World Cup historical past.

“We have now a tricky opponent within the subsequent sport, however Mexico can be a tricky opponent,” Ochoa stated. “We’ve labored actually onerous. We’ve ready ourselves.”

The final half, the working onerous 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 particular as a result of not everybody can go to a World Cup. And to be in 5? It’s a giant quantity, it’s historic,” he stated. “However it’s one thing private. A very powerful factor 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 important 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 enjoying a fifth sport, one thing El Tri final did in 1986, has lengthy been a quest of the nationwide group.

And if Mexico will get there this 12 months, it’s going to virtually actually be as a result of its goalkeeper carried it there — which is odd as a result of Ochoa by no means wished to be a goalie.

“I wished to be a striker till a coach advised me, ‘No, you go to purpose,’ ” he stated. “They noticed I did higher in purpose. One other coach advised me the identical factor. 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.

“Individuals trust in him,” stated Pérez, who’s in Qatar working as an analyst for Telemundo. “That’s mirrored within the media, amongst his teammates, with the followers. Memo’s a frontrunner due to all of the years he’s performed a prime degree. He’s a terrific skilled and that’s vital for his teammates as a result of they see that, and he turns into a superb instance.

“First together with his play, but additionally together with his habits off the sphere.”

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

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

“As one of many skilled gamers, the way in which to assist them is to make them really feel regular, give them peace of thoughts in order that the stress doesn’t work towards them, in order that the Mexican crest on their shirt doesn’t weigh them down,” Ochoa stated. “It typically occurs that gamers who’re superb of their golf equipment and within the nationwide group usually are not the identical and it’s important to attempt to deliver them collectively and calm them.”

Ochoa, 37, has additionally aged properly, giving up lower than a purpose a sport over his final three seasons with Membership América, the most effective stretch of his profession, whereas profitable an Olympic bronze medal final 12 months 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 targets, but Mexico has misplaced solely three of these video games.

And that has Ochoa considering of a sixth World Cup in 2026, when the match shall be shared by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s not that far-off,” he stated. “Sure, I see myself enjoying skilled soccer and I see myself obtainable for the nationwide group. It will be very good to shut my profession with a World Cup in Mexico.”