The year was 1993 and Atlas of Guadalajara were leading Veracruz by a single goal in a Mexican championship match when, three minutes from the end, Rojinegro goalkeeper Miguel Fuentes sustained an injury and had to go off. Replacing him that day was his young understudy Oswaldo Sanchez, who was coming on for his first league appearance. 

With such little time remaining, it was not the debut the youngster would have dreamed of, especially as it ended with Veracruz scoring a late equaliser that he could do nothing about.

In the 20 years that have elapsed since that luckless first professional outing, Sanchez has gone on to become one of the most successful keepers in Mexico’s history, and is just a step away from reaching this year FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco, one of the few international competitions he has yet to grace in his impressive career.

He and his team-mates are currently preparing to visit Monterrey for the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League final on Wednesday, with the tie finely poised after last week’s 0-0 draw in Torreon and the prize of a place in the club world finals awaiting the winners.

The stalwart keeper, who has represented his country at three FIFA World Cup™ finals (France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006), spoke exclusively to about his hopes of making it to Morocco and finally representing the CONCACAF region. 

A special occasion
The Jalisco-born custodian has come a long, long way since that late October day two decades ago. After spending three years in the colours of Atlas, he joined Club America, moving from the Mexico City giants to Guadalajara in 1999 before finally signing for Santos Laguna in 2007.

People are surprised to see me still playing at my age, but the way I see it there’s no such thing as young or old in this life. There’s just your mind and your spirit.

Oswaldo Sanchez, Santos Laguna goalkeeper.

His fine performances along the way earned him a place in the national team and appearances at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Copa America, the Olympic Football Tournament, the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup. At club level, meanwhile, he has taken part in the Copa Libertadores, the now-defunct Copa Merconorte and the CONCACAF Champions League, an impressive list from which there is one notable absence.

“The only tournament I’ve never played in is the Club World Cup,” said Sanchez, who turns 40 this year. “It’s a great opportunity that I can’t pass up. It might be my last chance too because it’s not easy to reach the final and take part in a tournament like the Champions League, which is getting bigger and more important all the time.”

Now in the twilight of his career, one in which he has won league titles with Guadalajara in 2006 and Los Guerreros in 2008 and 2012, Sanchez is still motivated by the game: “I enjoy the day-to-day and I never tire of saying that. People are surprised to see me still playing at my age, but the way I see it there’s no such thing as young or old in this life. There’s just your mind and your spirit.”

Just another battle
If there is one thing he has learned from so many years between the posts, it is that there are always conclusions to be drawn from the negative experiences the game inevitably throws up.

“I remember that match against Veracruz very clearly,” he said. “No sooner had we picked ourselves up after the goal than the referee blew his whistle. It ended 1-1. It’s a bittersweet memory and it wasn’t the debut I expected. I was crying when I got back to the dressing room but I got a lot out of it. It was the most important game of my life.”

An even more bitter experience came just days before the start of Germany 2006, when he learned of his father’s death while at the team’s training camp. 

Stronger and wiser for the ups and downs he has endured, Sanchez is hoping to help Santos Laguna resolve some unfinished business on Wednesday and avenge last year’s Champions League final defeat to Monterrey.

“We’ve played them in some big games lately,” he said. “Maybe it’s just another match for them because they’ve got their derby against Tigres, but I’m very well aware of just how much this game means to the people of Torreon. We need to enjoy the occasion and perform to the best of our abilities. If we give it our best shot, we’ll definitely give ourselves a chance of winning.”

The 20-year-old who began his career by picking the ball out of the net has developed into an experienced keeper who knows what it takes to achieve success. Contemplating a potential glorious end to a very fine career, he said: “We are ready to fight, battle and do whatever ever it takes to win the title.”