Player Focus: Guillermo Ochoa Key to Mexico's Potential Progression


Silvestre Varela’s late header in Portugal’s 2-2 draw with USA on Sunday night gave Paulo Bento’s side a fighting chance of progressing to the second round of the World Cup. Defeat would have seen them crash out of the competition having fallen to an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Germany last week, but a comprehensive win over Ghana and a result favouring them in Germany’s meeting with USA on Thursday will see them progress.


For the neutral though, Varela’s last gasp equaliser maintained the impressive goalscoring average in Brazil. His header means that, at the halfway point, there is an average of 2.94 goals per game being scored, a far cry from South Africa 2010 where, at the same stage, the average was 2.09 per match. Despite the high number of goals though, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa is yet to pick the ball out of his net.


The Mexican is one of only two goalkeepers, the other being Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama, to keep a clean sheet in the opening two World Cup fixtures. The second - coming in a 0-0 draw with Brazil - earned the 28-year-old rave reviews, mirrored by his WhoScored rating (7.90). If Mexico are to progress to the second stage of the competition, Ochoa must turn out a similar display when they face Croatia, in a game El Tricolor must only avoid defeat in to ensure a top-two finish in Group A.


Only Asmir Begovic (8 vs Nigeria), Enyeama and Diego Benaglio (7 vs Bosnia and Herzegovina and France, respectively) have made more saves in a match at the 2014 World Cup than Ochoa (6 vs Brazil), and the Mexico number 1 has shown that he is more than capable of rising to the big occasion when called upon. He will need to be in a similar vein of form on Monday night against a Croatia side high on confidence on the back of their 4-0 thumping of Cameroon.


Mario Mandzukic is expected to lead the attack for Niko Kovac’s side and the Bayern striker showcased his ruthlessness when they defeated Cameroon last week, bagging a brace in the win over their African counterparts. Only Robert Lewandowski (20) scored more Bundesliga goals than Mandzukic (18) last season and needing only 2 shots on target to net twice against Cameroon proved how consistent a striker he is.


Player Focus: Guillermo Ochoa Key to Mexico's Potential Progression


Nevertheless, he will struggle to get the better of his Mexican adversary at the Arena Pernambuco. Ochoa plied his trade in Ligue 1 with Ajaccio last season, having signed for them from América in 2011. However, their relegation to Ligue 2 means the goalkeeper opted against extending his contract with L’ours and his displays at the World Cup so far will have attracted interest from bigger teams.


Reports suggest Ochoa is keen on remaining in France as he is close to gaining French nationality, though that is unlikely to deter potential suitors from approaching him. Ajaccio may have conceded the most goals (72) last season in Ligue 1, but that isn’t to say the Mexican did not impress. Ochoa enjoyed a reasonable save success (67.4%) in France’s top tier last term, with that return more notable when taking into account that he faced the most shots on target (218) of all goalkeepers in Le Championnat.


While he has faced only 7 shots at goal so far at the World Cup, the fact that he is yet to concede will boost morale in the Mexico camp. His save to deny Neymar’s first half header has been compared to Gordon Banks’ 1970 “Save of the Century”, where the England goalkeeper famously denied Pelé, and he displayed the athleticism of the veteran shotstopper to claw the ball away from danger just as it looked as though the ball would nestle in the Mexico net.


It’s just one example of the quality of his displays between the sticks this summer. Only Rafael Márquez (7.61) and Francisco Javier Rodríguez (7.43) have a better average WhoScored rating than Ochoa (7.34) of every Mexico player at the tournament and it's a fair reflection of his performances in the Mexico goal.


Ochoa must maintain these high standards when Mexico face Croatia, and supporters will be confident he can make it 3 clean sheets from 3 against their European counterparts. A win over Cameroon and the draw with Brazil means a positive result for Mexico will see them secure their place in the second round of the 2014 World Cup.


Croatia are expected to attack from the off in order to break down the staunch Mexico defence, though doing so will be easier said than done. Should Mexico repel the opposition attack and secure their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup, one of the main reasons they’ll have done so is due to the goalkeeping exploits of Ochoa.


Do you think the form of Guillermo Ochoa will be enough to see Mexico progress to the next round of the World Cup? Let us know in the comments below