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Jun 19, 2014

Mexico: Three reasons why Ochoa was picked

How will Mexico and Brazil continue throughout the tournament? The ESPN World Cup team weighs in.

FORTALEZA, Brazil -- There are things, small details, certain situations which the coach chooses not to divulge, and in much the same way the player keeps them close to his chest. Nevertheless, the field is a different story; it cannot be bribed into silence. On the field everything is laid bare for all to see.

The case of Guillermo Ochoa is a perfect example of this.

- Marshall: The good, the bad and the ugly

- Hernandez: El Tri's surprises and letdowns

- Canales: Result needed against Croatia

While coach Miguel Herrera does not elaborate, and while his player chooses his words carefully during his postmatch news conference, the field does not lie.

The field goes on to tell a story, which goes beyond the four great saves by Ochoa. These saves took place in a Mexican defensive half, which, at moments, began to resemble that of a sacrificial altar.

Particularly brutal was that of Neymar's header. If we go as far as to say that the Brazilian came close to executing a move with the deadly precision of Cristiano Ronaldo, then we can liken the Mexican goalkeeper's acrobatic antics to that of the World Cup save carried out by Englishman Gordon Banks against Pelé.

Why did Herrera choose Ochoa as the national team's first choice goalkeeper? Why, when past track records and even "El Piojo's" own instincts seemed to unmistakably be leaning toward choosing the Cruz Azul goalie, José de Jesús Corona?

Herrera sums it up: "He seemed calmer, with more peace of mind, more focused. That's why I, along with the coaching staff discussed the possibility of Memo starting, and in the end I took the decision to settle for Ochoa for the whole of the World Cup tournament".

GK. Guillermo Ochoa -- Mexico
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa capped off his superb performance versus Brazil with a save on a Thiago Silva header from point-blank range.

Of course there is more to it than that. There is an obvious advantage to be gained from watching the games from the stands rather than on TV.

Such details could be seen in the game against Cameroon and were later confirmed in the game against Brazil. Even after two animated commentaries, it was much easier to discuss them directly with the goalkeeper himself.

1. Two consecutive corner kicks for Brazil. During the first Ochoa positions his teammates at the post and other spots around the box. He even makes sure to cover for any surprise eventualities by placing a defender at the far post. The corner kick fails to make an impact and is quickly cleared by his defense.

Once again, they face another corner kick. Ochoa is seen to confer with Rafa Márquez, Francisco "Maza" Rodríguez and Héctor Moreno; he converses with them and instructs them with vivid gestures as to where he needs them to be. In return the captain makes a gesture demonstrating that he supports his goalkeeper's decisions. Rodriguez and Moreno position themselves closer to the 18-yard line. The second corner kick is quickly anticipated by the Mexican defense.

2. The question directed at Ochoa in the postmatch mixed zone relates to what role he feels he has in the counterattack of the team, from a goal kick or a long clearance. The goalie accepts the question and goes on to explain.

"Well, I am the one that initiates any counterattacks, even more so in the type of games that Miguel [Herrera, coach] likes to play. This style of play involves the defense determining the pace, stretching the opponent's team and allowing for one-on-ones up front. Yes, it's true I am the one to initiate the counterattacks, but of course when the situation allows, when it doesn't, the ball needs to be cleared as far as possible, because after all this is the World Cup and we can't afford to take risks."

3. There are other factors, which were observed during the Cameroon game, and were further witnessed during the Brazilian game -- factors, which relate to Ochoa's performance when the Mexican 18-yard-box became crowded with players.

During these moments, with a firm grip on the ball and a crowded box, Ochoa runs to the edge of the area and throws a long clearance in an attempt at putting Oribe Peralta or Giovani dos Santos in a one-on-one. This would thus force the Brazilians to regroup and assume their defensive positions. By doing this the Mexican goalie managed to clear the box and allowed for Mexico to move forward with the ball at their feet rather than attempting an aerial attack.

On certain occasions, he made it look as though he would simply roll it out to the side and then at the last minute he changed his mind and chose another tactic, even at times taking the goal kick from inside the 6-yard box, which allowed him to take advantage of the quick breaks made by Andres Guardado and Paul Aguilar, or Miguel Layún and Herrera.

It's clear that these types of tactics allow the Mexican team to push forward, forcing their opponent to drop back almost immediately. Alternatively, as was the case a couple of times, it left three Brazilians playing deep in order to mark Peralta or Dos Santos, in this way Mexico dominated more of the field with more players able to defend against free kicks and corner kicks.

I insist: Perhaps in a game such as that against Cameroon, these little details could have been considered mere coincidences. Yet, we have now seen the same little details in two games, which coupled with the four great saves explain why Herrera chose Ochoa. He chose Ochoa despite the speculations that Corona was the better choice.

This does not mean that Corona does not know how to do the same, or that he is incapable of doing so; what is certain is that Ochoa has proven to Herrera that he can improve.

And surely there are other details of the game that can only really be appreciated by being on the field. Besides the instructions he gave, his authority, his visibility within the box, his time management, and the control he imposed when clearing the ball, choosing between a long clearances or one of many other clearances. For example, his decision to clear from within the 6-yard box especially when Brazil decided to pressure from within the 18-yard box.

These are the things, aspects and details of the game that both the coach and player were rather guarded about.

Nevertheless, the field, the teller of secrets, it is responsible for ensuring all mysteries are put to rest.