Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa waited a long time to make his World Cup debut. After joining the senior squad in 2005 at the age of 20, he made the trip to Germany in 2006 as third-choice keeper and a sightseer. In 2010, Mexico was divided when he was reduced to being Oscar Perez's backup as Mexico made it out of their group, but lost to Argentina in the round of 16. Now 28 years old, it seemed he might again be limited to a backup role behind Jose Corona in Brazil despite an impressive season at Ajaccio in France.
Out of contract and facing uncertainty for club and country, Memo Ochoa finally got a boost when Mexico manager Miguel Herrera decided to go with him over Corona in their World Cup opener against Cameroon just four days before the match. Eager to make the most of his long awaited opportunity, Ochoa kept a clean sheet as Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 to defy their many doubters after struggling through the qualification process.
That was vindication of sorts for Ochoa, especially after he was one of five members of Mexico's 2011 Gold Cup squad who was dropped from the team after testing positive for a banned substance that they unknowingly ingested by eating tainted chicken. But next up was host nation Brazil, who came back to win their opener against Croatia 3-1 and had a nation full of expectant and unforgiving fans surrounding them at all times. This time, Ochoa put on a show worthy of the situation.
Brazil fired 14 shots at Ochoa — eight of them on target — and Ochoa stopped them all. Even one right on the line. He made saves at full stretch and reactionary blocks in front of his face. He covered every inch of space between him and the net and there was nothing Brazil could do to get the ball past him. In fact, he played so well that an old internet myth about him having six fingers resurfaced and was quickly spread through social networks by countless onlookers who figured a physical anomaly was the only explanation for his performance.
Mexico's attack helped Ochoa by threatening Brazil keeper Julio Cesar for stretches that kept the home side at bay. When the final whistle blew, it was still 0-0 and Ochoa was an easy choice for Man of the Match. His six saves were the most by a Mexican goalkeeper at the World cup since 1966, according to ESPN.
Mexico are now on four points with Brazil with one group-stage match against Croatia left to play. If they make it out of the group — or better yet, do the unthinkable and finish ahead of Brazil — it will largely be down to Ochoa, who has traveled a frustrating path to his grand showcase on this stage.
- - - - - - -