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Jun 17, 2014

Memo to Mexico: I'll save you

Our ESPN panel of experts highlight the importance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in Mexico's 0-0 draw with Brazil.

FORTALEZA, Brazil -- Following Mexico's 0-0 draw with World Cup hosts Brazil, El Tri manager Miguel Herrera sent out a tweet with the hashtag #MexicoLindoyQueHuevos.

Loosely translated, the hashtag means "Mexico beautiful, and what balls."

Afterward, Herrera insisted he was talking about the fans of El Tri, who, despite being outnumbered by the home fans at the Estadio Castelao, were able to make themselves heard.

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"The hashtag is obviously one part of how the fans were with us, because we felt the fans," Herrera said at his postgame news conference. "In spite of the fact that they were the minority, we felt the people. We heard them on the bench even stronger than the Brazilians. That made us feel even greater."

But the player who, shall we say, showed the most guts was Guillermo Ochoa.

The free-agent goalkeeper, formerly of Ajaccio, was easily the man of the match and delivered four key stops to keep the home side at bay. On two occasions, he stopped Brazil captain Thiago Silva, who also plays in France for Paris Saint-Germain.

"Ochoa is a great keeper, and he has made life difficult for PSG before," Silva said. "He was instrumental today."

Ochoa, now certain to have plenty of suitors for his club services next season, was in no position to disagree with his Ligue 1 counterpart.

"It was very difficult, and I'm delighted leave the field with the zero on the scoreboard," he said via translator. "It was the game of my life."

GK. Guillermo Ochoa -- Mexico
Ochoa's late save of Thiago Silva's point-blank header was one among of string of fine stops.

It's fascinating to think that just days before the World Cup, Herrera was still mulling over who his starting goalkeeper should be. Jose Corona had started the vast majority of Mexico's World Cup qualifying matches and was considered the incumbent. Ochoa had also been the backup at the past two World Cups. He seemed destined to be the bridesmaid yet again.

Yet Herrera ultimately went with Ochoa, and with Mexico having collected four points in their first two matches, it's clear the Mexico manager made the right choice. And for that, Mexico captain Rafael Marquez is grateful.

"Memo was our savior," Marquez said postmatch. "We put in all our effort, but we knew it was going to be tough."

So what convinced Herrera that Ochoa was his guy? Following Tuesday's encounter, Herrera revealed that it was down to one trait, though it sounded like he simply went with his gut.

"We decided that Memo was someone we saw as calmer, with more tranquility," Herrera said after the Brazil match. "Not because the others didn't have the [same], but we saw Memo slightly above the other two. That is why I decided to have Memo as the goalkeeper to kick off the World Cup."

Marquez added that Ochoa's decision to head to France benefited him as well. Liga MX compensates its players well, which leads to less incentive to move to clubs in Europe. But Ochoa was willing to move out of his comfort zone in order to better his game.

"Memo went alone from Mexico [to] playing in France," Herrera said in the postmatch mixed zone. "That experience is now maybe the best in Mexico."

The coach also said that one of Mexico's other two keepers, Corona or Alfredo Talavera, could have done just as good a job. But that's not to say he's about to change things up now.

"Memo today had high-level saves that gave certainty to the team that we needed in the back, and it gives us a confidence," he said.

And a result that was "lindo" indeed.