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.
It was Brazil who posed most of the questions in the first half. Dani Alves fits the description of right back extremely loosely – he tore forward at any opportunity, sometimes drifting inside to link up – while Neymar, who started in a central role, went through his tricks and drew a stunning save from Ochoa in the 24th minute.
From Alves’s cross, Neymar beat Rafael Márquez to thump a header towards the bottom corner. Ochoa flung himself to the right to claw away.
The big chance of the first half fell to Paulinho just before the interval. Thiago Silva chested Alves’s free-kick into the midfielder’s path but Ochoa was off his line smartly to block. Fred, regularly on the very edge of offside or beyond, also headed at Ochoa.
The creative responsibility that sits on Neymar’s shoulders is onerous even if his body language betrays little sign of the strain. Scolari moved him to the left at the beginning of the second-half, with Oscar switched inside and Bernard introduced for Ramires on the right. The home crowd, though, implored Neymar to make something happen. At times, he looked like the only hope. Oscar was peripheral.
Mexico’s organisation was matched by their tidiness in possession and they knitted together plenty of pleasing stuff, getting the wing-backs forward and the midfielders into shooting positions. Vázquez fizzed over another long-ranger early in the second-half, as did Herrera and Guardado late on while Giovani dos Santos cut from right to left and, for a split second, his deflected shot looked set to wrong foot Júlio César. It did not.
Brazil summoned a late surge. Neymar chested down Bernard’s cross in the 70 th minute and he worked Ochoa while David Luiz could not connect with Oscar’s cross and the substitute, Jo, dragged wide of the far post. Thiago, who had earlier trodden on Marquez, was booked for scything through another substitute, Javier Hernandez, but the captain almost stole in at the end.
From Neymar’s free-kick, he directed a free header goalwards. Ochoa saved.
BRAZIL: 12 Julio Cesar; 2 Dani Alves, 3 Thiago Silva, 4 David Luiz, 6 Marcelo; 8 Paulinho, 17 Luiz Gustavo; 16 Ramires (20 Bernard, half-time) 11 Oscar (Willian, 84 mins), 10 Neymar; 9 Fred (21 Jo, 68 mins). Yellow cards: Ramires, Thiago Silva.
MEXICO: 13 Guillermo Ochoa; 22 Paul Aguilar, 2 Francisco Rodriguez, 4 Rafael Marquez, 15 Hector Moreno, 7 Miguel Layun; 6 Hector Herrera (8 Marco Fabian, 76 mins), 23 Jose Juan Vazquez, 18 Andres Guardado; 10 Giovani dos Santos (9 Raul Jimenez, 84 mins); 19 Oribe Peralta (14 Javier Hernandez, 74 mins). Yellow Cards: Vazquez, Aguilar.