As soon as the World Cup group stage was drawn, Mexico-Poland instantly stood out as the most important game in Group C. The thinking was that Argentina would roll, Saudi Arabia would be airlifted by everyone and anyone who survived Fight for Chicago would advance as a team in second place in the group. Saudi Arabia’s stunning, comprehensive upset of Argentina raised the stakes further, promising a three-point lead for any team brave enough to grab the win, or, on the flip side, a three-point hole for the winner and Saudi Arabia with Argentina’s revenge looming over them like the sword of Damocles.
A stadium thought to be full of Mexican fans brought some much needed energy to the match and both teams battled to a massive 0-0 draw. The pace of the game was fairly simple – Mexico controlled most of the ball and charged through Chucky Lozano, while Poland waited for their chances – if not a little surprising to those who had followed Mexico through the qualifiers. As a result, neither goalkeeper had to defend the entire first half. The game opened up in the second half, with Mexico creating a handful of promising moments, although Poland’s biggest chance of the game came from Poland. In the 53rd minute, Hector Moreno was awarded a penalty after tackling Robert Lewandowski in Mexico’s penalty area. Both men were going for it, although the referee awarded it to Moreno, who started the famous one No Era Penalty The round of 16 match in 2014 prevented Lewandowski from getting to the ball with too much power.
Lewandowski was always going to step up to the point. He has never scored a World Cup goal before, he got the penalty and could also be the best striker in the tournament. It was his moment, time for the penalty taker to step up and Poland surged ahead. Only one man stood between Lewandowski and history. The problem was, that guy is Guillermo Ochoa, who has propelled Mexico to two consecutive World Cups with his goalkeeping heroics. As Lewandowski stepped up, Ochoa swerved to the right, jumped hard to the left and stood strong as Lewandowski fired a shot straight into his outstretched hands.
He made the save and Mexico rode the momentum to press hard for the rest of the game, forcing Ochoa’s opponent Wojciech Szczesny to come up big. Mexico manager Tata Martino said his side probably “deserved a lead at half-time” and that they cost themselves the three points by playing “predictable and cautious” football in the second half. Sure, yes, Mexico should have done more to create a goal, although the man of the match was clearly Ochoa, who has a long history of such moments on the big stage.
An unused substitute at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Ochoa finally got his chance in Brazil and produced one of the legendary goalkeeping performances in World Cup history as his side drew 0-0 with the hosts. He played extremely well against the Dutch in the last 16 in an eventual (and unfair) loss, and followed that feat by helping to smother the Germans in 2018. He’s 37 and this is his last World Cup, which makes a big his day all the more impressive. Most players don’t go to three World Cups to win accolades, nor do many goalkeepers put themselves in a position to produce so many positive highlights. Ochoa kept his team alive with his save today and although Mexico will need to dig deep and play better against Saudi Arabia and Argentina to get out of the group, they are still in it thanks to the goalkeeper.