Three Points: Underwhelming Brazil held by Mexico
FORTALEZA, Brazil -- Here are three reactions to the 0-0 draw between Brazil and Mexico in the hosts' second game of Group A.
1. Ochoa comes up big for El Tri
Mexico certainly looked to possess the ball and get into Brazil's half, and Jose Vasquez twice threatened with shots from distance. But when possession was lost, El Tri was highly organized. In a bid to limit the influence of Oscar, as well as initiate the attack, nominal defender Rafa Marquez played almost as a defensive midfielder at times. This made Mexico very tough to break down from the run of play, despite some mazy runs by Neymar.
Brazil did manage to make some headway thanks to service from wide positions, but there was no getting past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. The home side got a clean look at goal in the 26th minute, when Dani Alves' cross found Neymar in space, but Ochoa stopped the Brazilian's header with a diving save to his right, palming the ball away as it was level with the goal line.
The home side then threatened from a set piece, which has long been something of a weakness for El Tri. Again, Alves was in the middle of the action. His free kick found Thiago Silva in the box, and the defender's chest control let Paulinho in, but Ochoa was there once again to keep Brazil at bay from point-blank range.
Ochoa continued his fine performance into the second half, denying Neymar's blast after good work from halftime substitute Bernard. The Mexico stopper then saved his best for last, sticking out his right hand to deny Thiago Silva's close-range header with great reflexes.
It's almost shocking to think that, just prior to the World Cup, Ochoa was locked in a battle for the No. 1 spot with Jesus Corona, and manager Miguel Herrera's choice in goal was among the more scrutinized decisions heading into the tournament. After two games, it's clear Herrera's decision was the right one, as Ochoa has been in sparkling form.
2. Brazil can't find breakthrough after chippy start
The clash between the two 2012 Olympic finalists seemed to be the perfect advertisement for the beautiful game, given the preference of both teams for attacking play. The game instead began as an ugly and testy match. No one was immune, either, as attacking stars Neymar for Brazil and Gio Dos Santos for Mexico didn't hesitate to get physical when the need arose.
Alves should have been booked for a late challenge on Andres Guardado in the 13th minute, and the same was true for Mexico's Paul Aguilar, who took down Oscar two minutes later. But on both occasions referee Cuneyt Cakir issued warnings rather than bookings. Whether it was Cakir's quiet words or the teams deciding to play instead of kick lumps out of one another, it took about 20 minutes for any sense of rhythm to be established; Brazil eventually gained the upper hand.
The second half witnessed a brief revival from El Tri as Vasquez and Hector Herrera both narrowly missed the target from long range, before the momentum then swung back in Brazil's direction. But, despite some sparkling play from halftime substitute Bernard, Brazil and the partisan crowd were left frustrated. In fact, it was Mexico who had the better chances late on, as Andres Guardado and substitute Raul Jimenez both threatened, with the latter player forcing a smart save from Julio Cesar.
While Ochoa was immense in the match, Brazil will no doubt focus on its inability to generate more in attack, and part of this is due to the lack of a central striker. Through two games, Fred's most notable contribution has been to win a highly dubious penalty against Croatia. Against Mexico he was mostly invisible, and was forced to make way for Jo in the second half. The absence of injured forward Hulk was felt, as well. The pressure could be seen in the play of Neymar, who often tried to do too much on his own when he would have been better served trying to get his teammates more involved.
3. El Tri in control of its fate
Given Croatia's opening game defeat to Brazil, Mexico is now firmly in control of its own destiny. With Croatia and Cameroon set to play on Wednesday, it's now looking like a draw in the group finale against the Croats should be sufficient to ensure El Tri's progression into the next round. Given the woeful form that Mexico showed in qualifying, that is more than most El Tri fans had dared hope coming into the tournament. But immense credit must go to Miguel Herrera, who has restored confidence and positivity into a talented side. As a result, the fickle relationship between the national side and its fans is a full-on love affair again.
Brazil's situation is far from dire, and all that's left is a match against a Cameroon side that Mexico dominated in its opener. But manager Felipe Scolari will no doubt be concerned about his attack, which hasn't managed to look very fluid outside of some bursts of brilliance from Neymar so far.