A perfect cross from the right sends the ball arrowing into the area where it is met by Brazil’s No10 who, hanging in the air after a prodigious leap, sends a seemingly unstoppable header powering towards goal. Yet as Seleção fans prepare to celebrate, the opposing keeper appears on the scene, launching himself full stretch to somehow get a hand on the ball, turn it away to safety and leave his mark on FIFA World Cup™ history.
The above description could easily cover a save that, for many experts, is considered the finest in World Cup history – when England legend Gordon Banks denied Pele in the sides' group clash at Mexico 1970. However, in this case the men involved are Mexican custodian Guillermo Ochoa and Brazil’s Neymar, with the former also pulling out a series of other sublime stops to ensure El Tri held the hosts 0-0 in their Group A meeting in Fortaleza.
‘An instinctive reaction’
It should come as no shock then that, after the match, Los Aztecas’ No13 was smiling from ear to ear as he described his miracle save to FIFA.com and gave his insight on the rest of a remarkable showing. “I was watching the move unfold and, when I saw Dani Alves was going to send in a cross, I looked across the box and saw Neymar was being tightly marked by Rafa Marquez.
“I didn’t think he’d manage to get an effort on goal, but even so I got into position to make sure I was ready,” revealed Memo. “Suddenly I saw he’d won the header and after that everything was instinctive. I pushed off with my feet, stretched as far as I could and managed to keep the ball out.”
From the very moment it happened, comparisons with Banks’ 'Save of the Century’ began flooding in and, when the two sequences are compared, the similarities are indeed remarkable. “Of course I know that save, I’ve seen it loads of times!” said a humble but visibly delighted Ochoa. “I know it’s considered the best save in [World Cup] history and it’s a real honour that people are saying mine was similar. I genuinely feel very flattered.”
The perfect setting
For those that have followed Ochoa throughout his career, spectacular saves and performances come as no surprise. Even so, though he put in no shortage of fine displays with latest employers AC Ajaccio, now his contract with the Ligue 1 outfit is over, Mexico’s standout performer in their opening two games is currently without a club.
“Of course it’s not the same [as a normal league game]. This is the World Cup, up against the host nation… the setting could not have been better,” continued the former CF America keeper. “I was really determined to have a good game and I think that I managed to do my bit when I was needed.”
As expected, plenty more praise would come the shotstopper’s way after the final whistle, with team-mate Hector Moreno leading the way. “He was incredible,” said the RCD Espanyol defender. “He might not have been that well-known before because he’s been playing for a small club, but this comes as no surprise to those of us who work with him every day.”
“He saved us today,” said wide-man Andres Guardado. “Sometimes we had the feeling that, however many times they went for goal, he wasn’t going to let anything get past him.”
That said, both players professed their hope that Ochoa has less to do in El Tri’s final group encounter against Croatia, though the on-form keeper is ready for whatever comes his way. “Sometimes it’s our turn to catch the eye and other times it’s someone else's,” he said as the interview concluded. “Of course I’d like to have less to do, but in my position you’ve got to be constantly alert, whether you’re needed just once or loads of times. And that’s what I’ll keep training for.”