Heroics put Mexico's Ochoa firmly in shop window
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa jumps for the ball during their Group A match against Brazil, at the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza, during the FIFA World Cup, on June 17, 2014 - by Odd Andersen
"It was the best game of my life," said Ochoa, 28, after he produced several stunning stops to frustrate Brazil at the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza.
One stop in the first half, down low to his right to keep out Neymar's header, had shades of a legendary save by England's Gordon Banks to deny Pele in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
And he would surely have won the man of the match award even without producing incredible reactions to block the unmarked Thiago Silva's header from point-blank range late on.
"There is no doubt that today was the best game of my life, because of who we were playing -- the hosts of the World Cup," added Ochoa.
"At Neymar's header I didn't think I would get there because it surprised me that he jumped above (Mexico captain) Rafa Marquez, but luckily I got there."
Mexico have now kept clean sheets in each of their two Group A games, following a 1-0 success against Cameroon in Natal last Friday, and qualification for the last 16 is in their hands going into the final group game with Croatia on June 23.
Ochoa, nicknamed 'Memo', went to each of the last two World Cups as a back-up and his place in the Mexico side this year was far from assured heading into the tournament.
However, El Tri coach Miguel Herrera has been justified in choosing the former Club America star ahead of both Jose Corona and Alfredo Talavera.
"It was difficult because I had several goalkeepers in mind when I started this whole process," said Herrera.
"I decided to pick these three for the World Cup and then I had to select a first-choice 'keeper. It was never in my mind to start changing. I sat down with my backroom staff and my goalkeeping coach.
"It wasn't that the other two did not look solid but we decided that Memo looked just a tiny bit better than them. He has responded like we thought he would."
When asked for his opinion, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari joked: "I didn't like the Mexico goalkeeper." But he admitted that Ochoa was the best player on the field on the day.
- Club future to be resolved -
For now Ochoa, who turns 29 on July 13, the day of the World Cup final, is focused only on Mexico, but his future at club level remains to be resolved.
He has spent the last three years with Ajaccio in France's Ligue 1, and his mere presence there has increased the marketability of the French top flight abroad -- Ajaccio's games have been broadcast live internationally almost every weekend during his time there.
However, after playing a central role in helping the modest Corsican outfit avoid relegation in the last two campaigns, even his regular heroics could not keep them up in the season just finished.
With his contract expiring, he is seeking a new challenge elsewhere, although he has not ruled out staying in France, where Marseille have been linked with an approach.
They may now face competition from elsewhere, including wealthier clubs in England.
That is where Brad Friedel made his name, and the former United States international, who was at the Castelao Stadium fulfilling media duties, acknowledged that Ochoa will now be a wanted man.
"It was not a bad time to play well," he told AFP. "He might not be able to play for any club he wants but he won't have a difficult time getting a contract."
Friedel suggested that Ochoa should be considered a better custodian than even the legendary Jorge Campos, the colourful Mexico 'keeper of the 1990s.
"He is completely different to Jorge Campos, who was more of a 'sweeper 'keeper', more in the mould of (former Colombian international) Rene Higuita.
"To play in Europe like Ochoa does takes a different style of goalkeeping -- a bit of Mexican flair but with a lot of European presence if you like."