FORTALEZA, Brazil -- It was a bittersweet draw that could have been a victory. Sweet because the loss was narrowly avoided, thanks to the impressive skills of Guillermo Ochoa, who made four outstanding saves.
It was a 0-0 result, over which not a single tear should be shed, nor should the team feel defeated or embarrassed with this result. Mexico played for 90 minutes in a grueling, uncompromising and defiant way against the host and favorite to win this World Cup. On the one hand, you could describe it as 90 minutes of avoiding a defeat, yet it could also be said that it was 90 minutes in pursuit of victory.
Yes, Guillermo Ochoa was the most notable player. But up front Mexico only showed mercy by way of inaccuracies in their shooting or succumbing to stage fright. This resulted in Julio Cesar only having to make two dramatic saves, on shots by Hector Herrera and Paul Aguilar.
Once again, El Tri played while backed up by an amazing fan base. The 10,000 Mexicans present in the stadium boldly and somewhat without decorum confronted a stadium packed with Brazilian fans eager to celebrate Brazil passing to the second round.
Yet on more than one occasion, the singing of "Cielito Lindo" and the chanting of "Si, se puede" ("Yes, we can") drowned out the rather quiet and somewhat concerned sound of the Samba fans. What I will never forget is the moment those very same fans began to chant, during the extra minutes, "And where are they? Where are they? Where are these Brazilians who were going to beat us?"
In response, silence -- perhaps the best and worst response, given the current situation.
Twenty minutes in, Mexico had not succumbed to the pressure of the Brazilians moving forward. Brazil forced them to play deep, and they anticipated their moves and intervened in their passes. Brazil are physically stronger in one-on-ones, and thus El Tri found their lineup being narrowed and defended against the constant shots fired into the area by the yellow shirts.
The nail-biting drama continued, still 0-0. Yes, Mexico got close to Cesar's goal, but they were unable to get a shot in. Through their controlled passing, Brazil demonstrated their superiority. The biggest threat on the Brazilian goal was a Herrera shot that only narrowly missed when the goalkeeper tapped it over the crossbar. Despite the goalkeeper's interference, the referee, Cuneyt Cakir, failed to award a corner to Mexico and gave the goal kick.
Brazil responded almost immediately with a shot that would make even Ochoa's perfect curls stand on end. Neymar anticipated the incoming ball precisely; he cocked his head back, ready to launch the shot. It was pre-meditated, deadly, misleading and would certainly give his team the advantage. Ochoa dove and stretched his body as far as it would go in order to claw the ball away. Neymar was left open-jawed at the sight of the rather circus-like custom that followed, as the fans began to worship their goalkeeper Ochoa by chanting, "Goalie, goalie, goalie".
The very same chant was heard once more after a great ball chested down by Thiago Silva, which left David Luiz one-on-one with Memo. Nevertheless, the ex-goalkeeper of Ajaccio came out to block the shot and managed to stop it with his right leg.
More nail-biting moments? Francisco Rodriguez temporarily lost his man, and this time it was Fred who was able to take a shot on goal. Ochoa dove and denied the goal, which was then tainted by yet another apparent offside. The simple truth was that El Tri had one fundamental principle: only with two players can you impede a Brazilian.
They never considered themselves to be better footballers or better athletes; they simply implied that they could be better tactical players. Their attempts to recover the ball, coupled with the fact that the Brazilians are not fans of pursuing balls gone wide, allowed El Tri relief by keeping the ball out of their half. In addition, it was from these recoveries that Mexico's best attempts and responses came.
Through the nervousness and the sweating of Miguel Layun, Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Herrera, in addition to Ochoa's wall, the 0-0 score persisted, and despite the nerves, it seemed justified. In the crowd, the Brazilians ended up copying the Mexican fans in the way they shouted punishing chants at the opponent's goalkeeper.
In the second half, Mexico once again began to try and break through the Brazilian defense. It was all the more important, as Brazil seem determined to settle the game once and for all. The Brazilians seemed to have a sense of urgency about them, as if it were a case of life or death. However, for 10 minutes, Brazil seemed to fall apart, and El Tri were quick to capitalize; for a whole 10 minutes they closed in on the Brazilian defense.
Brazil, in an act of desperation, forgot all that they had been taught in training and simply booted out any ball that came into their area. The game continued, with the teams taking turns to control the game. Once again, Brazil managed to get the ball to a perfectly positioned Neymar. With an air of arrogance, he chested the ball down and positioned it for the shot. His shot lacked power but was aimed at the right-hand corner of Ochoa's goal. Ochoa anticipated the shot and blocked it.
Neymar tested Memo once more. He aimed his shot at the right-hand post, and the shot looked to be going in, but yet again Memo stopped it with a combination of chest, forearm and stomach. All in all, a valiant save. During this moment of Brazilian attack, Miguel Herrera remembered his promise. He subbed Javier Hernandez for Oribe Peralta and Marco Fabian for Hector Herrera. Both substitutes were sent to instill hope, even at the risk of losing possession in midfield.
The referee, Cakir, had been extremely forgiving of Silva, who escaped a yellow card not once but twice. Silva tackled Hernandez from behind and swiped his supporting leg from underneath him, an act that some might have considered valid of a red. Finally, Cakir finally took out his yellow card to punish the player.
The free kick was awarded but failed to get past the wall. Mexico continued to push forward and focused more on making an effort than sticking to the tactics ideal for their World Cup challenge. They tried to provoke a goal-scoring opportunity rather than creating one. Ochoa once again acted as El Tri's guardian angel by stopping Silva's lighting shot.
Meanwhile, Aguilar ruffled some feathers in the 90th minute with a superb shot that forced Cesar to make a rather uncomfortable save. Both teams came away with equal in points. Their futures are to be decided by their next rivals: Brazil against Cameroon and Mexico against Croatia.