World Cup throwback: When Guillermo Ochoa was the 'world's best goalkeeper'
Before I even begin, let me show you my Google search suggestions when I type in "Guillermo Ochoa". Note the highlighted search option - the second one.
The Mexican Goalkeeper became a superhero for about three weeks, way back in 2014, when the previous edition of the FIFA World Cup was holding center stage in Brazil. He is Mexico's No. 1 goalkeeping choice this time around too, but as a follower of the sport, I have been getting no news about the curly haired man in recent times. Hence the Googling.
Well, as humans, we are all spurred by curiosity and that's how I gave in as well. Clicking on the search result, I found that there was nothing untoward going on there; it was just a rumour that was rife on the internet after his superhuman showing in the 2014 World Cup - That Ochoa had an extra finger on his (no one knows which) palm, which helped him save those extra shots.
After that performance against Brazil, Ochoa became the subject of memes and trolls from all over the world, so superbly imaginative ones, the likes of which we rarely get to see, even by our meme-spotting standards. Here are a few tweets that I painstakingly dug up, from four years ago:
Well, I think you get the idea.
Now, with all the hopes that the Mexican Wall (Trump, you seeing this? There's already one of those!) produces yet another series of miracles in the upcoming Russian edition of the same tournament where he was so brilliant last time, let's take a look at how Ochoa came to Mexico's rescue on several occasions back at Brazil.
The "EL Tri" had initially been thought of as facing a tough task to get out of their group in 2014, having been drawn alongside hosts Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, with no favourites designated to do so, apart from Brazil, of course.
Mexico however, began their campaign with a resolute 1 - 0 win against Cameron, Ochoa keeping a clean-sheet in what was an assured performance against the likes of Cameron’s star Samuel Eto'o.
Having turned a few heads against Cameron, the Mexican shot-stopper fully announced himself to the world in the next game against the hosts Brazil, in Fortaleza. Luis Felipe Scolari’s men had the lion’s share of the game’s chances but were thwarted (mostly) by the bushy-haired wall that is Ochoa, all alone.
As Brazil’s trio of Neymar, Hulk and Fred attacked constantly, in the end they were all left frustrated however by the heroics of Ochoa between the sticks, who held firm all day, pulling off a string of superhuman saves to keep the score at 0-0, the standout save coming as he dived at full stretch to deny Neymar from scoring a seemingly unstoppable header, in a moment which drew comparisons with Gordon Banks’ "save of the century" against Pele in 1970.
Somehow Brazil failed to score from any of their 14 shots, with Ochoa saving six of these to deny the hosts.
The performance of Ochoa immediately had clubs around the world on alert, with the Mexican’s contract at French club AJ Ajaccio, having expired just prior to the tournament, making him a free agent.
The good times kept on coming for Mexico, after a 3-1 win over Croatia in their final group game sealed their progress into the last-sixteen, as Ochoa and co finished runners-up in the group behind Brazil on goal difference.
The keeper had a remarkable group stage, conceding just once in Mexico’s 3 group games, the joint best with Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas (snapped up by Real Madrid immediately) and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois.
But, alas, just as every good story starts, it must end too. The joy was to be short-lived for Mexico and Ochoa, after a dramatic defeat to Holland in the round of 16. Despite his best efforts, denying the Dutch on several occasions with a string of remarkable saves, Ochoa was left helpless in the end as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar buried a 94th-minute penalty beyond his outstretched hands into the goal, to deny Mexico their first quarter-final in 28 years.
Maybe it was for the best after all. Can you imagine, if Ochoa had saved the penalty, how the internet would have broke?
Following Mexico’s tournament exit, Ochoa was snapped up by La Liga side Malaga, signing a three-year-deal. It turns out, however, that we all jumped the gun a bit and had a late realisation that four good games weren’t a true reflection on a goalkeeper.
After failing to impress at Malaga, Ochoa was shipped out on a season-long loan to Granada in 2016. He was voted Granada’s Player of the Season in 2016-17, despite breaking the record for the most goals conceded in a single La Liga season.
The Mexican was, however, the keeper who made the most saves across the top five leagues in Europe that season, with a total of 162 saves. Maybe the Granada defence is at fault as well, for the goals conceded. Anyways, last year, Ochoa’s La Liga nightmare finally ended, after he was bought by Belgian club Standard Liege on a two-year deal.
Ochoa is expected to start for Mexico in Russia this summer and it might be wise for Liege to tie him down to a longer contract in anticipation of what’s to come.
Let’s face it, he’s going to be the best keeper in the world again at the World Cup in Russia this summer. We all know it, don't we. De Gea who? Neuer who?
Do you remember Ochoa's memorable performance? Let us know in the comments section below.