FORTALEZA, Brazil – It is a hard thing to have your voices heard over tens of thousands of people who are screaming at the same time, hoping to drown you out, but that did not stop the fans of Mexico here Tuesday from trying.
Dressed in red and green shirts, surrounded by Brazilian soccer fans wearing yellow, Mexico supporters chanted tirelessly toward the field for about two hours. When the final whistle blew, their voices were the loudest ones heard in Estadio Castelao, and their varied songs were whittled down to one: the name of their goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa — or, as they endearingly call him, Memo.
Facing one of the premier attacking lineups on the planet, Ochoa made several spectacular saves to lead Mexico to a 0-0 draw with Brazil in a Group A World Cup match. It was one of the most striking individual efforts of the tournament.
“I never dreamt of playing a game like this,” said Ochoa, who called it the most important performance of his career. “There are nights when you get out there and the ball seems to hit you even if you close your eyes. There are games like that.”
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Ochoa has shutouts in both World Cup matches, as Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in its opener Friday.
Miguel Herrera, Mexico’s coach, waited until the last moments before the tournament to name his starting goalkeeper, ultimately picking Ochoa over Jose de Jesus Corona. It was a huge moment for Ochoa, who was named to the team’s World Cup rosters in 2006 and 2010 but did not play either time.
Herrera said Ochoa’s calm demeanor gave him the edge over his competitors.
“We haven’t been mistaken,” Herrera said about the decision. “It seems Memo has lived up to it with his attitude. He is enjoying the World Cup, after being at World Cups on the bench.”
Ochoa made saves on four surefire goal chances, two on either side of halftime. In the 69th minute, Brazilian superstar Neymar lashed a sideways, left-footed volley toward the goal that Ochoa saved with the upper part of his left thigh.
In the 86th minute, the Brazilian defender Thiago Silva charged into the penalty box, rose up above the crowd to meet a cross and drilled a header toward the goal. But Ochoa slid over to whack the ball away with both hands. It was his sixth save, and teammates ran over to embrace him.
“They have a very good goalkeeper who had a very good day,” said Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s coach. “That is why we could not win.”
Goals turned out to be the only thing missing from the party in Fortaleza. National flags fluttered outside apartment windows. Team shirts were being sold all along the main thoroughfares surrounding the area, while stringed pennants crisscrossed above the narrower streets.
The night before the game, Silva, the Brazilian captain, made a plea to the country’s fans: “If you could sing the anthem with us, just like we players sing it on the pitch. Hug the person beside you, and sing it with us. I think that pushes us forward.”
After the Brazilian players walked out onto the field Tuesday — each player resting his hands on the shoulder of a teammate in front of him — Silva’s request was brilliantly fulfilled. The Brazilian fans produced an ear-stinging rendition of the anthem.
In the first half, Neymar drilled a header toward the far post that required a full-stretch dive from Ochoa, who parried it away with his right hand just before it crossed the goal line. It was most likely his toughest save of the match.
Ochoa came up big again a minute before halftime, stuffing Paulinho’s shot from close range.