Mexico’s 2022 FIFA World Cup hero, Guillermo Ochoa, suffered an apparent shoulder injury just 20 minutes into Mexico’s stunning 2-0 away loss to Honduras in their CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal first-leg match on Saturday.
The 37-year-old Ochoa, who cemented his legendary status with a heroic performance against Poland in Mexico’s World Cup opener last month, collided with Honduran striker Anthony Lozano while challenging for a ball in the 6th minute. After receiving treatment, Ochoa attempted to continue but signaled to the bench in the 17th minute that he could not carry on.
23-year-old Luis Malagón came on in relief to make just his second appearance for Mexico but could do little to stop the rampant Hondurans. Lozano opened the scoring in the 29th minute before Bryan Róchez added a second in the 72nd to put Honduras firmly in the driver’s seat ahead of Tuesday’s decisive second leg in Mexico City.
Extent of Injury Still Unknown
The extent of Ochoa’s injury is not yet clear. The club he plays for in Italy’s Serie A, Salernitana, has not yet commented on his status.
After being helped off the field today, Ochoa was seen with ice wrapped around his right shoulder and speaking with team doctors on the bench.
Mexican coach Jaime Lozano admitted after the match that Ochoa’s premature exit had disrupted his gameplan.
“Obviously we had prepared a strategy with Memo as our starting goalkeeper, so we had to adjust after his injury,” said Lozano.
“We will wait for more details from the medical staff, but hopefully it is not anything too serious.”
This is not the first time Ochoa has suffered injury while on national team duty – he infamously damaged ligaments in his right shoulder ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Ochoa’s World Cup Heroics
Ochoa was one of Mexico’s standout performers at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar just weeks ago.
He denied Polish superstar Robert Lewandowski from the penalty spot in Mexico’s famous 0-0 group stage draw. That result effectively ended Poland’s chances of qualifying for the knockout round.
The curly-haired Ochoa later made a string of acrobatic saves in the second half to keep Mexico level with Argentina and soccer legend Lionel Messi. That showing earned him the World Cup’s Man of the Match award.
Though Mexico ultimately crashed out in the group stage, Ochoa’s displays cemented his reputation as one of Mexico’s greatest-ever goalkeepers.
What This Means for Mexico
Saturday’s shock defeat now leaves Mexico facing an uphill battle to qualify for the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
As Nations League quarterfinal winners, Honduras have virtually guaranteed their spot at next summer’s continental championships.
But Mexico now must overturn the 2-0 deficit in Tuesday’s second leg in Mexico City. They will need to win by at least a three-goal margin to advance based on the away goals rule.
Bigger Picture Implications
Beyond simply qualifying for the Gold Cup, there are greater implications for Mexico’s national team.
Failure to reach the Nations League semifinals would snap Mexico’s streak of 17 consecutive Gold Cup appearances dating back to 1996.
It would also end Mexico’s run of appearing at the last eight Copa America tournaments as an invited guest team.
The 2024 Copa America is set to be held in the United States, making it a valuable experience for Mexico ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup with the USA and Canada.
Who Will Step Up?
Veteran captain Andrés Guardado will now be looked upon to rally the team in Ochoa’s absence in the second leg.
23-year-old holding midfielder Erik Sánchez earned praise for his combative performance partnering Guardado in midfield against Honduras. He will likely retain his starting spot.
Up front, Napoli winger Hirving Lozano will aim to inspire Mexico’s attack after a quiet outing on Saturday. Lozano has been Mexico’s top performer in 2022, scoring 10 goals across all competitions for club and country.
Mexico must now regroup and determine whether Ochoa will be fit to feature in Tuesday’s do-or-die second leg in the Estadio Azteca.
El Tri have not lost a competitive home match since 2018, a run they will be desperate to continue with their Nations League and World Cup ambitions on the line.
Ochoa will undergo further evaluation by team doctors upon returning to Mexico City. Both the player and his club will anxiously await the results.
His potential absence would be a massive blow not only on Tuesday but also moving forward in the World Cup cycle. Ochoa has been Mexico’s undisputed first-choice keeper since the 2014 World Cup.
At 37, Qatar 2022 was almost certainly his last World Cup. But Ochoa recently stated his intention to carry on playing through the 2026 World Cup hosted on home soil when he will be 40.
This latest injury scare will raise questions over his ability to maintain fitness and withstand the rigors of CONCACAF qualifying moving forward.
For now, all eyes are on the second leg in the Azteca Stadium. Mexico must overcome the shock result in Honduras without their legendary goalkeeper or risk missing their first World Cup qualifier in over three decades.