Mexico lost on penalties in the semi-finals
Goalkeeper Ochoa long kept Brazil at bay
El Tri will face Japan for the bronze medal
An old dream died for Guillermo Ochoa in the semi-finals of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament on Tuesday. And, to make his anguish even more acute, it died at the hands of Brazil, a team the goalkeeper has so often thwarted with brilliant performances.
Mexico lost 4-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw at Tokyo 2020, but it was a very different story at the Copa America in 2007, when Ochoa made his name in a 2-0 defeat of Brazil, or when his saves frustrated the hosts in a goalless stalemate at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Mexico gave the Olympic champions a stern test in Kashima, and once again it was the man wearing the gloves who denied A Seleçao time and time again, not least by keeping out Daniel Alves's thunderous free-kick on 23 minutes. The America keeper was beaten just once during 120 minutes, when Richarlison's powerful header hit a post and rolled along the goalline. That kept Ochoa's aura of invincibility intact until the penalty shoot-out, but this time Mexico's talisman was powerless to perform another miracle as his team-mates missed their first two attempts. "He's so important for this side," explained Carlos Rodriguez in a press conference after the game. "He's showed what he's capable of here, at the World Cup and so many times for Mexico. We're proud to have him here with us."
"He's crushed like the rest of us to have lost, but he was flawless," added the Monterrey midfielder, the only Mexico player to have converted his spot kick. "Brazil just took their penalties very well, even if Memo was very close to being the hero of the game. He's like the rest of us – he just wants to win the bronze medal now." Mexico coach Jaime Lozano was also quick to offer praise. "Memo has allowed us to pose Brazil big problems on so many occasions," he said. "We've got used to playing well against them. We didn't dominate this game tonight, but we defended very well."
Despite his disappointment, Ochoa preferred to focus on his pride after the game: "This is a squad of very talented young players with lots of quality and a bright future ahead. I think this team deserved to qualify for the final. Football can sometimes seem unfair, but it's a sport and you have to be able to both win and lose with your head held high." The Mexico great learned the realities of the game long ago. He spent his first Olympics on the bench in 2004 and had to watch El Tri's superb victory at London 2012 on television. Now aged 36, he knows this opportunity will likely never come again. Even so, the magic of the tournament is all about those famous medals and the immense national pride they bring, whatever the colour. And with the bronze now up for grabs against Japan on Friday, Ochoa and his team-mates will need to turn their pain into motivation as they look to return home with smiles all round.