From an early age, Guillermo Ochoa knew he had what it takes to go far in football. He was just 18 when Leo Beenhakker spotted him playing in a youth match for Mexican club side America. Taken aback by the teenager's ability, the veteran Dutch coach decided to give him an opportunity in the first team, and Ochoa seized it with both hands. By his 20th birthday, he was a fixture in goal for one of Mexico's two biggest clubs.
With America, 'Memo' has won two league titles and participated in numerous international competitions. His charisma and leadership skills quickly made him a hero to his club's supporters and also helped him become the face of a number of brands, thus earning him unprecedented popularity for a goalkeeper in Mexico.
With the Tricolor, however, he has had it less easy. Mexico have never had problems finding goalkeepers and when Ochoa came onto the scene, he found himself in the considerable shadow of Oswaldo Sanchez, one of the safest pairs of hands in Mexican football history. Sanchez had the absolute trust of then national coach Ricardo La Volpe, who used him in qualifying for Germany 2006 and in the tournament itself.
Ochoa travelled to Germany as third-choice goalkeeper and profited from the learning experience before his prospects improved with La Volpe's departure and the arrival of Hugo Sanchez as coach. When Sanchez alternated between the two goalkeepers at the CONMEBOL Copa America in 2007, the younger man performed impressively, while the veteran made some important mistakes.
A change of guard seemed imminent, but instead Hugo Sanchez left his post and his successor, Sven Goran Eriksson, reinstalled Oswaldo Sanchez as the team's outright No1. Ochoa duly returned to the substitutes' bench, and history seemed to be repeating itself when Eriksson finally handed him his chance only for the coach to lose his job.
Yet the arrival of Javier Aguirre as the Swede's successor has proved a positive for the 25-year-old keeper. After weighting up his options, the new coach put his faith in Ochoa and he responded with some fine displays in last July's CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph and the latter stages of South Africa 2010 qualifying.
With a starting place finally his, Ochoa now has the chance to shine on football's biggest stage and he does not lack the quality to do so. Despite his relative youth, here is a goalkeeper with seven years' experience at the top level. He has agility, athleticism and a secure pair of hands. He has also worked hard to overcome the difficulties he once had dealing with high balls and appears to have ironed out that weakness in his game. Ochoa also has authority and charisma.
All of the above ensures he has a telling role to play for his country in South Africa – and explains the covetous glances he is already attracting from several European clubs.