MEXICO CITY (AP) — Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa are about to make Mexico the first country to have two players at the same tournament participating in their fifth World Cup.
Guardado and Ochoa made their debuts with the Mexican national team on Dec. 14, 2005. They have both been to every World Cup tournament since.
“I look back and I am proud of what I have been able to achieve,” Guardado told The Associated Press. “It’s not easy to remain here. It takes hard work to maintain a high competitive level day after day and to continue to be taken into consideration for the national team.”
The pair will make history when Mexico faces Poland in the team's opening match on Nov. 22 in Group C.
German great Lothar Matthaus, former Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and another pair of Mexicans, Antonio Carvajal and Rafael Márquez, have previously played in five World Cups, but none were teammates at the tournament. At this year's event in Qatar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will also join the select group of being in their fifth World Cups.
Guardado and Ochoa, however, have been sharing the same locker room since that day in December 2005 when Mexico beat Hungary 2-0 in a friendly.
“It’s easier to do it with a friend to share it with. And because you have something in common from Day 1, it’s a path and a journey that I’ve really enjoyed with him,” said Guardado, a midfielder who plays in Spain with Real Betis.
Guardado made his Mexican league debut in August 2005. His call to national team came a short time later and he was on his way to his first World Cup in Germany six months after that.
“My first World Cup is a nice memory because I was playing in the second division a year earlier," Guardado said. "It was like going on vacation with my idols and I was like a sponge trying to learn from everyone. I only played one game, but I didn’t expect that experience at that point in my life.”
Ochoa’s path was different. The goalkeeper made his league debut in August 2004 with América, one of the most popular teams in Mexico. He was then chosen by Argentine coach Ricardo La Volpe to go to Germany in 2006 behind starter Oswaldo Sánchez and José de Jesús Corona.
Ochoa was also on the bench in South Africa four years later, behind Oscar Pérez, but he made his World Cup debut at the 2014 tournament in Brazil and has been a starter for the national team since then.
“The focus has changed. In my first World Cup I knew I was not going to play, that whetted my appetite. I tried it and said, ‘Now I want to live the World Cup on the field,’” said Ochoa, who is back in Mexico playing with América. “Now the responsibility has changed, you get older, you have more minutes, more experience and you have to lead the youngsters.”
Through their years together with Mexico, Ochoa and Guardado became roommates and forged a friendship that has transcended the national team. And with the retirement of Marquez after the last tournament in Russia, the two have also become team captains.
Together they lead a team that will head to the World Cup surrounded by doubt, not only because of the lackluster performances in qualifying and in recent friendly matches, but also because of the injuries to Raúl Jiménez and Jesús Corona.
Corona was left out of the team and Jiménez is still recovering from an injury and has not played since Aug. 31.
“The people said that there is more pessimism now, but I feel like that is always the case around the national team,” Guardado said. “In the World Cup we know how to compete. Mexico and Brazil, since 1994, are the only ones to qualify for the second round (every time) and we have to prove it again. It will be difficult, but we are ready for the challenge.”
Mexico, which will face Argentina and Saudi Arabia after that opening match against Poland, is seeking to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1986.
“The role that we must assume is the same one we have had in all the previous World Cups. In the draws we have had difficult groups and we have been able to get around them,” Ochoa said. “Now Mexico has to be the surprise, be the dark horse and go as far as we can go.”
Otherwise, the World Cup will be memorable for Mexico only for having two “Cinco Copas” at the same tournament.
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Carlos Rodriguez, The Associated Press