Guillermo Ochoa’s World Cup magic didn’t work against Lionel Messi and Argentina. Mexico’s goalkeeper, known for big saves in soccer’s biggest tournament, had stopped Robert Lewandowski’s penalty attempt in El Tri’s World Cup opener. But he was helpless against Messi’s second-half blast from distance in the 64th minute on Saturday night. Enzo Hernandez added a second goal in the waning minutes to give Argentina a 2-0 victory. “The difference was because they had Messi,” forward Henry Martin said.
Doha’s golden Lusail Stadium, which will host the World Cup final next month, was filled with more nearly 89,000 people, giving it a feel of a final rather than a group-stage match. After a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in its opener, Argentina’s hopes of advancing in Group C were diminished. Hoping to stave off elimination, the onus was on Messi to score after a rather timid first half. So he did. From outside the box, Messi’s low, left-footed shot sailed out of Ochoa’s reach and into the net.
At the final whistle, Ochoa and Messi grasped hands, and the goalkeeper known by his nickname Memo affectionately patted a gloved hand on his opponent’s head. Ochoa did not speak to reporters after the game. It might be the final World Cup for both men, who in Qatar each joined an exclusive club of players who have been to five editions of of the tournament. Like Argentina depends on Messi, El Tri have looked to Ochoa because their offense is sputtering and they have yet to score in Qatar. They’ll not only have to win on Wednesday in the final group match against Saudi Arabia, but they’ll also need some help.
Ochoa’s save of Lewandowski’s penalty attempt preserved a scoreless draw for Mexico against Poland, adding to a World Cup mystique that started when he fended off six Brazilian shots — including a dangerous header from Neymar — in a group-stage draw against the hosts in 2014.
Then in Russia four years ago, Ochoa had nine saves in Mexico’s 1-0 victory over defending champion Germany in the group opener.
Ochoa was first tested by Messi in the 33rd minute, when he punched away a free kick from the corner. Messi had another free kick from some 25 yards out in the 50th that sailed over the wall and well above the goal. Though the chances are slim, Mexico is still vying for an eighth straight trip to the World Cup’s knockout round. El Tri were looking to advance past the round of 16 and play in an elusive “quinto partido” — a fifth game. It’s something that has eluded the team since hosting the 1986 tournament.
“We did our job and unfortunately we left with defeat,” Martin said. “So it hurts, but tomorrow we have to be thinking about what’s next in the next game, because we have one last chance and we have to take advantage of it.” El Tri has never beaten Argentina in four attempts at the World Cup, and Martino’s worst defeat as Mexico coach was at the hands of his countrymen in September 2019, when Lautaro Martínez scored a hat trick in a 4-0 win.