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Internationals

Memo Ochoa Still Has More World Cup Magic In Him

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 22: Robert Lewandowski of Poland shoots a penalty which is saved by Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Mexico and Poland at Stadium 974 on November 22, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The moment the World Cup’s group stage draw was finalized, Mexico-Poland instantly stood out as the most pivotal game in Group C. The thinking was, Argentina would roll, Saudi Arabia would get ventilated by everyone, and whoever survived the Battle For Chicago would advance as the second-placed team from the group. Saudi Arabia’s stunning, comprehensive upset over Argentina raised the stakes even further, promising a three-point edge for any team brave enough to seize the victory, or, on the flip side, a three-point hole to the winner and the Saudis with the vengeance of Argentina looming over them like the sword of Damocles.

A stadium that felt filled to the brim with Mexican fans brought the requisite energy to the game, and both teams battled it out for an intense 0–0 draw. The dynamic of the game was fairly straightforward—Mexico controlled most of the ball and attacked through Chucky Lozano, while Poland waited for its opportunities—if not a bit surprising for those who’d watched Mexico throughout qualification. As such, neither keeper had to make a save throughout the entire first half. The game opened up in the second half, as Mexico engineered a handful of promising moments, though the biggest chance of the game was Poland’s. In the 53rd minute, Hector Moreno was called for a penalty after tussling with Robert Lewandowski in the Mexico box. Both men were going at it, though the referee adjudged that Moreno, who started the infamous No Era Penal round of 16 game in 2014, prevented Lewandowski from getting to the ball with too much force.

Lewandowski was always going to step up to the spot. He’s never scored a World Cup goal before, he earned the penalty, and also, he might be the best striker in the whole-ass tournament. It was his moment, time for a killer penalty taker to step up and vault Poland forward. Only one man stood between Lewandowski and history. Problem was, that guy is Guillermo Ochoa, who has propelled Mexico with his goalkeeping heroics for two straight World Cups. As Lewandowski stepped up, Ochoa feinted to his right, dove hard to his left, and stood strong as Lewandowski rocketed a shot directly into his outstretched hands.

He made the save, and Mexico rode the momentum to press hard for the rest of the game, forcing Ochoa’s opposite, Wojciech Szczesny, to come up huge. Mexico manager Tata Martino said his team probably “deserved an advantage at halftime” and that they cost themselves three points by playing “predictable and cautious” soccer in the second half. Sure, yes, Mexico should have done more to engineer a goal, though clearly the man of the match was Ochoa, who has a long history of moments like this on the big stage.

An unused substitute in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Ochoa finally got his chance in Brazil and put forth one of the most legendary goalkeeping performances in World Cup history as his team drew the hosts 0-0. He played extremely well against the Dutch in the eventual (and unjust) losing effort in the round of 16, and he followed that feat up by helping crush the Germans in 2018. He is 37, and this is his final World Cup, which makes his big day all the more impressive. Most players do not get three World Cups to rack up accolades, nor do many keepers put themselves in position to produce so many positive highlights. Ochoa kept his team alive with his save today, and though Mexico needs to dig deep and play way better against Saudi Arabia and Argentina to advance out of the group, they’re still in it thanks to their keeper.

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