x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Mere draw belies quality shown by Mexico v Brazil

'Mexico were well prepared for Brazil, an opponent they know well,' writes Ian Hawkey from Brazil, where the Mexicans looked every bit the equal of the hosts - and perhaps more - in a 0-0 draw.

Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera, second left, and his teammates Hector Moreno, left, Javier Aquino, third right, Miguel Layun, second right, and Francisco Rodriguez walk off the pitch following their 0-0 draw with Brazil at the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday. Yuri Cortez / AFP / June 17, 2014
Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera, second left, and his teammates Hector Moreno, left, Javier Aquino, third right, Miguel Layun, second right, and Francisco Rodriguez walk off the pitch following their 0-0 draw with Brazil at the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday. Yuri Cortez / AFP / June 17, 2014

The World Cup hosts can certainly stir a crowd. They anticipated as much when they headed to Fortaleza, in the country’s north-east, for the second match of the group phase, and they urged a set of constituents who the team know to be passionate and somewhat starved of live sightings of the Selecao – this was only their third match in the city in 12 years – to make a big noise. “I’d like the people in the crowd to sing the anthem like we sing it, to hug the person next to them,” said captain Thiago Silva ahead of kick-off.

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The crowd made plenty of noise. But the fact was that for periods, the eight or nine thousand Mexican supporters made even more.

As they exited the Arena Castelao, Mexican players were being asked by reporters to consider whether they had just taken part in one of the country’s “greatest ever” World Cup matches. Perhaps, some of them conceded. A goalless draw against the most decorated World Cup nation, at their own World Cup, counts as a feather in the cap, or rather the sombrero, and although Gulliermo Ochoa, the Mexican goalkeeper had a decisive part in securing his country’s second clean sheet of the tournament – a tournament where there have been a lot of goals – this was not a simple backs-to-the-wall, cram-the-penalty-area sort of resistance.

Mexico might have won the match, through Andres Guardado’s long-range shot, just before the final whistle. Earlier efforts from distance, but with power, from Hector Herrera and Jose Vazquez, were a few centimetres from giving the underdogs an advantage. Underdogs? Yes, Mexico were that, despite the uncanny record they have built up against Brazil this side of the millennium. Of the last 14 games between the countries, Mexico have lost only four, and beat Brazil in the Olympic final two years ago.

The worrying aspect of the day for Luiz Felipe Scolari, who must now prepare for the possibility that even a big win over Cameroon will not guarantee top spot in Group A, was the lacklustre showing of Fred, and later Jo, his central strikers. Oscar was far less of a menace than he had been against Croatia on the opening day and Neymar was left carrying a very large proportion of the attacking threat.

“There are times when Neymar’s potential to do something is a lot bigger than the others,” acknowledged Scolari, “but we will keep working with him, working to win games. We win or lose as a group, not as one player.” Scolari could look back on his team selection in two ways: that when Bernard, the brisk, bright winger came on at half-time, Brazil’s build-up play looked more purposeful, imaginative. Or he could think that starting with Ramires, the more aggressive, but less creative player in the absence of the unfit Hulk – who should be available against Cameroon, rather than Bernard had been a mistake.

Mexico were well prepared for Brazil, an opponent they know well, restricted the space to deliver passes of the full-backs, Marcelo and Dani Alves, and tackled and pressed with authority. They also had Ochoa on fine form and the knowledge they have a bit of Indian sign over the Selecao.

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