Mexican veterans make their 5th World Cup as teammates

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa are poised to make Mexico the first country to have two players in the same tournament participating in their fifth World Cup.

Guardado and Ochoa made their debuts for the Mexican national team on December 14, 2005. They have both appeared in every World Cup tournament since.

“I look back and I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish,” Guardado told The Associated Press. “It’s not easy to stay here. You have to work hard to maintain a high level of competition day after day and continue to be considered for the national team.”

The duo will make history when Mexico take on Poland in the team’s opener on November 22 in Group C.

German great Lothar Matthaus, former Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and another pair of Mexicans, Antonio Carvajal and Rafael Márquez, have already 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 for their fifth World Cup.

Guardado and Ochoa, however, have shared the same dressing 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’ve had something in common since day one, it’s a path and a journey that I’ve really enjoyed with him,” he said. said Guardado, a midfielder who plays in Spain. with Real Betis.

Guardado made his Mexican league debut in August 2005. His call-up to the national team came soon after and he was on his way to his first World Cup in Germany six months later.

“My first World Cup is a good 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 this experience at the time. of my life.”

Ochoa’s path was different. The keeper made his league debut in August 2004 with América, one of Mexico’s most popular teams. 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 since started for the national team.

“The goal changed. In my first World Cup I knew I wasn’t going to play, it whetted my appetite. I tried and said, ‘Now I want to live the World Cup on the pitch,'” said Ochoa, who has returned to Mexico to play with America. “Now the responsibility has changed, you get older, you have more minutes, more experience and you have to lead the youngsters.”

During their years with Mexico, Ochoa and Guardado became roommates and forged a friendship that transcended the national team. And with Marquez retiring after the last tournament in Russia, the two also became team captains.

Together they lead a team that will head to the World Cup surrounded by doubts, not only because of lackluster performances in qualifying and recent friendlies, but also because of injuries to Raúl Jiménez and Jesús Corona.

Corona was left out of the squad and Jiménez is still recovering from an injury and hasn’t played since August 31.

“People have said there’s more pessimism now, but I feel that’s still 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, who will face Argentina and Saudi Arabia after that opener against Poland, are looking to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1986.

“The role we have to take is the same as we had in all the previous World Cups. In the draws we had some tough groups and we were able to get around them,” Ochoa said. “Now Mexico has to be the surprise, be the dark horse and go as far as they can.”

Otherwise, the World Cup will only be memorable for Mexico to have two “Cinco Copas” in the same tournament.

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