Ochoa helps Mexico draw against lacklustre Brazil
Goalkeeper makes series of world-class saves against hosts in Fortaleza
There has been plenty of talk of footballing ghosts here for Brazil and the scariest one for them is generally considered to be Uruguay, what with 1950 and all that. But Mexico have also put a few skeletons in the World Cup host’s closet of late and they once again proved obdurate and irksome in Fortaleza on Tuesday.
No team has fared better against Brazil over the last 15 years than El Tri. They had entered this seismic collision with seven wins in 13 meetings and only four defeats and that did not include the victory in the 2012 Olympic Games final, ostensibly an under-23 game but possibly the hardest one of all for Brazil.
Mexico departed with their record further enhanced because this was a fine team performance from them and a hugely encouraging result. They had to rely upon the goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, at times he made a breath-taking first-half save from Neymar and a vital one at the death to deny Thiago Silva but Mexico also might have nicked it when the substitute, Raul Jiminez, drew a last-gasp block from Júlio César.
The sense of occasion was palpable and not only because this was a rare treat for the people of Fortaleza – it was only the second time in 12 years that the Selecao had played in this coastal city. It had been billed, in Brazil at least, as the second step of the seven that the nation intended to take at their World Cup, and the atmosphere was something akin to a frenzy.
Nobody present will forget the moment when the teams emerged or the singing of the national anthems, which the Brazil players and fans finished off in a cappella style. Neymar could be seen wiping away tears. The din was relentless throughout, with the swathes of Mexico fans also hardly the shy and retiring types.
The battle for Brazil, against a Mexico team that sought to keep numbers behind the ball and crowd the space, was to bring order amid the chaos.
Composure was the watchword; it will be for as long as Brazil remain in the tournament.
If there was respect between the teams it was evident from the moment that José Juan Vázquez left a first-minute marker on Neymar, that there was no love lost. Miguel Herrera, the Mexico manager, flapped on the touchline as he felt that the Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, favoured Brazil; in the sticky heat, Herrera surely needed to take his jacket off. Dani Alves was a little fortunate to avoid a booking for a lunge at Andrés Guardado.
It seemed incongruous to see Mexico in red but their work ethic was typically tireless. They had moments in the first half to forge ahead, notably when the danger man, Oribe Peralta, wriggled free only for Thiago Silva to close the door. Héctor Herrera whose agent, incidentally, is Tony Blair’s son, Nicky, forced Júlio César to tip over a 25-yard shot, except that Cakir did not award the corner. Vázquez also shot just wide from distance.