Ochoa keeps Brazil scoreless in a thrilling draw
Mexico's hard-fought scoreless draw against Brazil in World Cup group play Tuesday marks a new era for the squad -- one that for now leaves the trials and tribulations of 2013 far behind.
"Si, se puede!" -- loosely translated as "Yes, we can!" -- has been a rallying cry for Mexico for years, but somehow it seems to have extra power whenever El Tri plays Brazil. Something about measuring itself against the country that has won more World Cups than any other brings out the best in Mexico.
Increasingly, Mexico also seems to psych Brazil out a bit. Their gold-medal failure in 2012 against El Tri was far too recent to have been forgotten. Seeing many of those same players no doubt added to Brazil's pressure and tension in the match.
Then again, just by himself, Guillermo Ochoa was probably a great unsettling element for Brazil. Early chances for the Selecao were denied by great effort on his part. Ochoa extended himself to stop with a single hand a Neymar header in the 26th minute that looked destined to be the opening score. It was a stunning save, one that more than justified his starting role, but also seemed to plant doubt in the mind of the Brazilian players.
They began to settle for outside shots that didn't really challenge Ochoa at all. Then he shocked Brazil again with another save from close in, this one from Paulinho just before the half.
Having a goalkeeper make almost unbelievable saves can inspire field players to believe anything is possible. After a nervy start, Mexico settled down in the midfield, connecting passes well, looked more organized than Brazil, and even more creative and dangerous than their vaunted opposition.
It was improbable, but not more so than the idea that Brazil could get out-cheered in a home stadium, and that was happening as well. While not the majority in Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao, El Tri fans made their voices heard in fervent encouragement, while Brazil's fans were more anxious and quiet.
The longer Mexico hung on, fiercely determined, the louder their fans got. When El Tri reached the half with the match still scoreless, Mexico fans cheered almost as if it were a win.
In the second half, the mental games continued to be as crucial as the play on the field. Brazil's players had chances against Ochoa, but he was able to stop all of the standard ones, which the Brazilians were clearly rushing a bit.
As time ticked on, the attempts actually got worse. Jo, on a breakaway and with time in the 76th minute, didn't even test Ochoa, putting his shot badly wide.
In the 86th minute, Thiago Silva fired a close-range header right to Ochoa, who stood his ground and rejected the shot, again inspiring shouts of support from the Mexican fans. The wave of belief and relief in the stadium was palpable.
On counterattacks, Mexico also threatened Brazil's goal. While Julio Cesar didn't have to be as otherworldly as Ochoa, he had to be steady and stout when called upon, and he was.
It was a sloppy, physical battle at times, but it was also thrilling to see the individual duels, and overall, the united stand made by Mexico against the talented personnel of Brazil.
The cheers at the sound of the final whistle were like a benediction to Mexico's mission in securing a precious point. The squad now has four points in group play and a confidence to chase after new accomplishments in the World Cup.
Andrea Canales covers both Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.