DOHA, Qatar (AP) — With a post-match hug, Robert Lewandowski gave credit where it was due. Guillermo Ochoa has done it again in the World Cup.
The Mexico goalkeeper stopped Lewandowski, one of the game’s best scorers, in the second half in a penalty that secured a point between El Tri and Poland.
A win in the tournament would have ruined Mexico’s bid for an eighth straight trip to the World Cup. Ochoa, 37, is making his fifth consecutive appearance in football’s biggest competition, joining an elite group that includes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But it is not the first time the goalkeeper has appeared prematurely with his hair growing up at the World Cup.
Back in 2014, the player commonly known as Memo, made six saves in a scoreless match against Brazil, which was among the favorites as the host of the tournament.
He denied Brazilian stars Neymar and Thiago Silva in close matches and later called it “the game of life.”
In Russia four years ago, he made nine saves in Mexico’s 1-0 win over defending champion Germany in the opening round.
“When we need Memo, he always shows up,” defender Jorge Sanchez said.
Qatar could be Ochoa’s last international tournament and he is desperate to get past the round of 16 and play in the “quinto partido” – the fifth game. It’s something that has eluded El Tri since Mexico hosted the 1986 tournament.
“There have been great players in history who didn’t have the opportunity to play in the World Cup, so I had the opportunity to play five wonderful, amazing games,” Ochoa said. “But, of course, I want this World Cup to be very different and be the best in Mexico of all time.”
In the moments after Tuesday’s painting, memes spread on social media depicting Ochoa as a brick wall, Superman, Neo from the movie Matrix and even Jesus.
But Ochoa, who plays for Club América in Mexico’s Liga MX, points to preparation, not heroism.
“We are working on that these two weeks, or maybe a month, with the goal coach Gustavo Pinero. But it is difficult when you watch the video of Lewandowski’s penalty, it is confusing because you watch more than 15 to 20 penalties, so you don’t know which side to choose,” said Ochoa. “In the end I’m happy to save the penalty. He’s a good striker.”
Ochoa started his career at Club América at 18 and played there for seven years before touring Europe with the French, Spanish and Belgian teams. He won it at Club America in 2019.
Although the opener ended in a draw, the defense helped – at least temporarily – to calm critics who questioned the team’s style and blasted coach Gerardo Martino for his line-up selection.
Mexico finished second in CONCACAF qualifying behind Canada – and ahead of the United States. But the team dropped three of its playoff games heading into the World Cup.
On Saturday at the Lusail Stadium El Tri faces Messi and Argentina, who lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their opening match. La Albiceleste remain one of the favorites in the competition despite the defeat.
“We have a tough opponent in the next game, but Mexico is also a tough opponent,” Ochoa said. “We have worked hard. We have prepared ourselves.”
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