Judging by their shoot-out success against Ukraine on Tuesday, when it comes to goalkeeping Mexico have all the angles covered.
During the course of the 36 minutes of normal time and three minutes of extra-time, El Tri’s first-choice keeper Miguel Estrada did his bit to keep Group D opponents Ukraine at bay. Then, shortly before the final whistle sounded, and with the score locked at 1-1, Estrada gave way to his understudy Hector Robles, a tactical switch that turned out to be a masterstroke on the part of coach Ramon Raya.
As the match went into the inevitable penalty shoot-out, Robles made the most of his short stay in the limelight, keeping out two Ukrainian spot-kicks to send the CONCACAF champions through to the last eight of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011.
And as FIFA.com discovered, there is no question of Estrada resenting Robles’ heroics or of the number two harbouring a grudge at spending most of the game on the bench, the two sharing a long embrace after the Mexicans had sealed their passage to the quarters.
“When he’s out on the pitch I support him and when I’m out there he does the same. I think that shows we’re together as one,” explained Robles. “We’ve been together in the team since 2007, and we’re friends first and foremost. We get on well off the pitch. We talk about the best training methods for us and the things we need to do, and it’s thanks to that good relationship that we have fun when we train.”
Unperturbed at making way for Robles, Estrada was the first to run over to the hero of the hour and congratulate him on his two match-winning stops. And even by the time he spoke to FIFA.com, Estrada was still visibly excited about his colleague’s brief but decisive performance.
“I honestly think Hector’s one of the best keepers I’ve ever seen when it comes to stopping penalties,” said Mexico’s number one. “Today we had Estrada for the game and Robles for the penalties, and I don’t think there’s any team that’s got anything like that. It’s the one’s who’s most in form who’s going to be out there, whether it’s in normal time or in a shoot-out, and neither of us are going to moan about it. There’s no doubt the team’s very grateful for that.”
The Mexicans have the dubious reward of facing the mighty Russians in Thursday’s quarter-final. The Group C winners collected maximum points in their three games and have a very similar style to the Ukrainians. “They’re an excellent side who are very well organised and play a not dissimilar game to Ukraine,” said an appreciative Estrada. “We’re going to stick to our style, though, and try to attack and score goals, even if circumstances sometimes dictate that you can’t do that, which is what happened in this last game.”
With another tight encounter in prospect, there is every chance of another shootout and another opportunity for Robles to show what he can do when the pressure is on. Nevertheless, the man himself is hoping things do not turn out that way. “Absolutely not,” he said emphatically. “I hope we don’t have to go through all that. We want to win in normal time, but I’ll be there between the posts if I have to.”
And if Robles does make another late entrance into the fray against Russia, no one will be willing him on more than the man making way for him.