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Tom Marshall: Ochoa’s time to shine for El Tri

The goalkeeper could overcome his past El Tri struggles and nail down a starting job under the new coach.

Guillermo Ochoa’s national team career has to date been underwhelming.

The teenager that debuted in the Copa Libertadores back in 2004 and helped America to the Clausura title in 2005 seemed destined to be fast tracked to Mexico’s No. 1 jersey. But eight years on and now 28 years old, Ochoa is yet to nail down the spot.

From missing out on the Olympics in 2008 as the team captain to losing the starting spot to veteran Oscar “Conejo” Perez at the 2010 World Cup and becoming the number two to Jesus Corona in the Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre era after a doping scandal, Ochoa’s time with El Tri hasn’t been the happiest, as he himself implied Tuesday.

“Since I began my career, I’ve always stood up for the national team,” began Ochoa. “I’ve gone through good and bad moments and sometimes more bad ones than good ones.”

For Friday’s game against Panama, everything points to the popular ‘Memo’ starting between the posts for Victor Manuel Vucetich’s first game as national team manager.

The stars seem to have aligned for Ochoa to step up.

The former America ‘keeper, born in Guadalajara, has been on form for Ligue 1 outfit Ajaccio at the start of the French season and was voted the club’s best player for September. In combination, Corona was at fault for two goals in the last disastrous round of qualifying games and the Cruz Azul ‘keeper looked decidedly unconfident. Then there is Jonathan Orozco, Vucetich’s goalkeeper at Monterrey, who misses out due to injury.

On Tuesday, the player refused to be drawn on how true it was that he didn’t accept the call into Chepo’s last squad because he wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot, but he did neatly sum up the stage of his career he is at.

“I feel like I’m in a stage of maturity in my career, confident in my ability, always open to learning, to listening and to taking things onboard,” he said in the mixed zone after training. “I feel proud of what I’m achieving over there, but I want to achieve much more.”

On the French island of Corsica, Ochoa seems to have ironed out some of the flaws in his game. Gone are the lapses of concentration and unsteadiness that periodically affected him. In sum, Ochoa is entering the prime of his career and has become a much more rounded goalkeeper than he was, improving with his feet, coming out for crosses, and his authority at bossing the defense.

Following all the disappointments, Ochoa should have the chance against Panama and next Tuesday against Costa Rica to finally not just appear as Mexico’s number one, but also to cement his place ahead of the World Cup, if everything goes to plan.

It could and should be a fresh start for one of Mexico’s most recognizable and talented players, who still has plenty of time and talent to move on from Ajaccio and become one of his country’s most successful exports.

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