The World Cup Calendar, June 17th: The Man With The Golden Gloves

Okay, this title is somewhat of a misnomer as the Golden Glove Award actually went to Germany ‘keeper Manuel Neuer. However, after Guillermo Ochoa’s heroic performance against Brazil, he fully deserved the Golden Glove Award. Ochoa wasn’t the highest rated ‘keeper going to Brazil in 2014, yet for 90 minutes against the hosts in Fortaleza he put in a performance that Gigi Buffon would have been proud of. Mexico started with five at the back to try and contain the might of Neymar and co. Despite packing the

Mexico started with five at the back to try and contain the might of Neymar and co. Despite packing the defence tight, the Mexican goalkeeper was called upon to make save after save, throwing his body on the line to give his side a chance of progressing to the next round.

Despite this Ochoa love-in, it was actually Brazil’s ‘keeper Julio Cesar who made the first save of the game. Hector Herrera fired a shot from outside the box, only to see it tipped over the bar by the former Champions League winning goalkeeper. It was an early warning for Brazil, just because they were the better side didn’t mean that Mexico, in a glorious red and black change strip, were pushovers.

Brazil were throwing a lot of men forward, confident that an early goal would help push them on to victory. Dani Alves fired in a typical Dani Alves cross, a pinpoint cross onto the head of the onrushing Neymar. Ochoa dived to his right and tipped the ball wide, slamming his body into the post in the process. It was a terrific save, the first of many that day. This was also a World Cup first: it was the first ever use of goal-line technology at a World Cup. It was thoroughly unnecessary at this stage, on account of not a single person in the ground thinking that it crossed the line, but still, it was a novelty. If only it had been around four years previously, England would have got a deserved goal and naturally gone on to win the World Cup…

Ochoa performed another miracle soon after. Neymar hit a free kick into the box from 40 yards out. Mexico played a bafflingly high line. It was found out, and to the horror of the erratic Mexican coach Miguel Herrera, Brazil had control of the ball less than 10 yards from goal, with four Brazilians and only one Mexican player to try and defend. David Luiz and Paulinho rushed to the ball, Paulinho got a foot onto it and hit it towards goal. Ochoa rushed out and blocked the shot with his body. It was a phenomenal save, one which gave the Mexican team a huge lift.

Hector Herrera then once again stung the gloves of Julio Cesar. He shimmied past the Brazilian defence, switching from his right foot to his left. He teed up the shot, fired it through a crowded penalty box and watched it soar towards goal. Cesar touched the ball over the crossbar and kept the game tight at 0-0.

Neymar was the poster boy for the 2014 World Cup. He was the full package, the ultimate striker, billed as the greatest Brazilian forward since Ronaldo stared as the PentacampeƵes number 9. The whole country sat on the edge of their seats as Neymar stood over the free kick. Despite being 35 yards from goal, Neymar shot, rather than crossing into the box. The shot fired towards the top left corner. Ochoa struck his best Superman pose, diving across the goal line to tip the ball wide. By this stage, if the neutrals were anything like myself, they would have stopped wishing for a Brazil goal fest and rather wanted to see if Ochoa and his Mexican side could hold onto this point.

A little later and Ochoa had done it again! Substitute Bernard performed a few stepovers to create some space for himself, easing past the defence before putting a perfectly weighted cross into the box. The cross found the chest of Neymar. Neymar controlled it, let it bounce, then unleashed a fizzing shot low and hard towards goal. The result? You guessed it. Saved.

Neymar may not have found the back of the net, but he was involved in everything going forward for Brazil. The Barcelona forward stood over a free kick on the touchline and whipped in a cross towards the crowded penalty box. The cross found the head of Brazil’s captain, Thiago Silva, who lost his marker with ease, darting to the centre of the six-yard box and twisting his head to meet the cross. He bulleted his header towards goal, only to be thwarted again by the El Tri ‘keeper.

Despite this Brazilian pressure, Mexico rallied to a late resurgence. Firstly, Andres Guardado recovered from a particularly poor corner kick, picking the ball up from the clearance and firing a wicked shot towards goal. Cesar threw a hand at it but the ball flew past it, ending up agonisingly close to going in. Guardado again had the chance to put Mexico ahead late on. A high ball was controlled expertly by the midfielder. With Marcelo missing in action, David Luiz had to sprint across to close down the angle. Andreas Guardado had time to pick his spot, steady himself and shoot. The shot was powerful and accurate, but Julio Cesar showed flashes of his old self by blocking the shot, allowing his defence to clear it away.

The final whistle blew and the match was over. It was 0-0 but felt like a high scoring draw. Both ‘keepers played well, with Cesar rolling back the years with some expert saves, his QPR nightmare a distant memory. But it was Guillermo Ochoa who was the star of the show. He was a force of nature. Brazil threw everything in their armoury at the Mexican side that had had to qualify via the playoffs against New Zealand after a disastrous qualifying campaign. Brazil enjoyed a relatively exciting campaign, up until a 7-1 massacre by Germany. Mexico qualified from a tricky group, edging out a poor Cameroonian side on matchday one, before defeating Croatia in a thrilling winner takes all game. They were knocked out in the Round of 16 by an outrageous Arjen Robben dive. After their dismal qualification record, reaching the last 16 was a decent result for Miguel Herrera’s side. As far as 0-0’s go, Brazil v Mexico was an absolute stormer. On June 17th, 2014, Guillermo Ochoa was the man with the golden gloves, and he had a license to thrill!

Tomorrow’s game: June 18th. South Korea v Italy. 2002.