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Mexico

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Fight for No. 1 spot continues for Ochoa

Guillermo Ochoa has been Mexico's backup goalkeeper at the previous two World Cups.
Guillermo Ochoa has been Mexico's backup goalkeeper at the previous two World Cups.

Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had every reason to bypass the eager reporters clamoring for him to answer questions in the media mixed zone after El Tri lost a close friendly game to Portugal on Friday. After all, Ochoa was fighting to prove himself worthy of consideration for a starting spot over Jesus Corona, but the last-minute goal scored by Bruno Alves was probably a fatal blow to that effort.

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Ochoa could have blamed his defenders, since an unnecessary foul and loose marking resulted in the open header. He could have ignored the waiting press and kept walking to the squad's transportation, as indeed, many of his Mexican teammates did.

But the 28-year-old player, who made his debut in the nets at 18, did nothing of the sort. He patiently discussed the match, praising his teammates, coach and the preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a tournament in which he may never play a single minute.

If so, it will be Ochoa's third World Cup as a backup goalkeeper, instead of starter.

Though answering questions was a simple act of cooperation with grateful journalists, it was just another example of Ochoa as the consummate pro.

Unlike Corona, whose temper and tendency to fight when agitated have been demonstrated on various occasions, even to the detriment of his teams, Ochoa has no such reputation. Instead, his passion on the field is for excellence in his job.

"I'm ready to play," Ochoa said. "I came here to work. I will keep working."

World Cup dreams aside, Ochoa has remained concentrated on that work.

That's been proved by his experience in Europe, where Ajaccio's website posted a fond farewell to Ochoa after his final outing for the club earlier this year. Ajaccio fought relegation every season Ochoa was there, and he was always one of the best warriors on the squad in that campaign. Now that he is available to other teams, a number of top European clubs are rumored to be interested in his services.

Scouts from those teams are probably aware that Ochoa's calm, civil demeanor masks a fierce competitive spirit.

Ochoa didn't equivocate when asked if he was ready to be El Tri's No. 1 goalkeeper in Brazil. "Yes."

Pointing to his earlier trips to the tournament, Ochoa claimed to be more prepared than ever.

"I'm more mature. I'm more focused. I know how to do things. I have more experience."

It can't have escaped coach Miguel Herrera's attention that if Ochoa and Corona are equal in goalkeeping ability, Ochoa may still be less of a risk on the field because he can control his temper better.

Detractors will point to the fact that Ochoa has let in two goals in the team's recent warm-up matches. Supporters will respond that Ochoa has faced more shots and made more saves than Corona.

Herrera himself, who observes the two in practice on a daily basis and can best judge who is most impressive there, was still unsettled on the final goalkeeping decision after the match versus Portugal.

Ochoa wasn't presuming that he had convinced the coach, either.

"I don't see myself as the starter, yet," Ochoa stated. "That's Herrera's decision."