DOHA, Qatar (KABC) — With a hug after the game, Robert Lewandowski paid respect where it was due. Guillermo Ochoa had done it again at the World Cup.
Mexico’s brave goalkeeper stopped Lewandowski, one of the game’s best strikers, with a second-half penalty that saved a goalless draw between El Tri and Poland.
A loss in the match would have dealt a blow to Mexico’s bid for a place in the eighth knockout round of the World Cup. Ochoa, 37, is making his fifth consecutive appearance in football’s biggest tournament, joining an exclusive club that includes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But it wasn’t the first time the seemingly ageless goalkeeper with the unruly hair had made it big at a World Cup.
Back in 2014, the player known by his nickname Memo made six saves in the goalless draw against Brazil, who were among the favorites as hosts.
He fended off Brazilian stars Neymar and Thiago Silva with close headers and afterwards called it the “game of his life”.
In Russia four years ago he made nine saves in Mexico’s 1-0 win over holders Germany in the group opener.
“When we need Memo, he always shows up,” said defender Jorge Sanchez.
Qatar could become Ochoa’s final World Cup and he is keen to progress through the round of 16 and compete in an elusive ‘quinto partido’ – a fifth game. It’s something that has eluded El Tri since Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986.
“There have been great players in history who never got a chance to play in a World Cup, so to have the chance to play against five is wonderful for me,” said Ochoa. “But of course I want this World Cup to be very different and the best ever for Mexico.”
Within moments of Tuesday’s drawing, memes were circulating on social media depicting Ochoa as a brick wall, Superman, Neo in the Matrix movies, and even Jesus.
But Ochoa, who plays for Club América in Mexico’s Liga MX, later referred to preparation, not heroics.
“We’re working on that with goalkeeper coach Gustavo Pinero these two weeks or maybe a month. But it’s always difficult when you look at the video of Lewandowski’s penalties, it’s complicated because you look at more than 15-20 penalties, so you know never which one.” to choose a side,” said Ochoa. “In the end, I’m glad I saved the penalty. He’s a great striker.”
Ochoa began his career at Club América aged 18 and played there for seven years before bouncing around Europe with teams in France, Spain and Belgium. In 2019 he returned to Club America.
While the opener ended in a tie, the save helped – temporarily at least – calm critics who had questioned the team’s form and blasted coach Gerardo Martino for his selection of the squad.
Mexico finished second in CONCACAF qualifying behind Canada – and ahead of the United States. But the team dropped three of its five voting games en route to the World Cup.
On Saturday, El Tri meets Messi and Argentina, who unexpectedly lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their opening game, at the Lusail Stadium. Despite the defeat, La Albiceleste remains one of the favorites of the tournament.
“We have a strong opponent in the next game, but Mexico are also a strong opponent,” said Ochoa. “We worked really hard. We prepared.”