Mexico spoil Brazil's party by drawing 0-0
Too reliant on Neymar, Brazil must improve or party will end early
Brazilians had prepared the street parties here. Barbeques were fired up and the beer was on ice.
The celebratory script had been pre-written. The hosts were winners in waiting.
But the Mexicans stubbornly refused to learn their lines. They played party poopers with aplomb in Fortaleza.
They left us with a fine romance after a 0-0 drawing this morning (Singapore time). The hosts are left with a head full of worries and a heart full of uncertainty.
The Brazilians were blunted.
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa undoubtedly enjoyed a Hollywood outing with four terrific saves he will dine out on for the rest of his career. This will always be the day he denied the Brazilians in their backyard.
Fortaleza means fortress. Ochoa made one for the Mexicans.
But Luiz Felipe Scolari knows there is more to this draw than the remarkable reflexes of a feline-like goalkeeper.
Generous officiating and moments of magic from Neymar and Oscar glossed over the shortcomings against Croatia in the World Cup curtain-raiser.
But the curtain was gleefully ripped away by the merciless Mexicans to reveal not an assembled squad of samba superstars that smile down on their fellow countrymen from every highway billboard in the country, but fallible men with obvious weaknesses.
Brazil should still reach the knockout stages, with a final Group A game against Cameroon still to come but Neymar isn't dominating, his teammates are toiling and nerves are jangling.
After an inept showing against Croatia, Hulk was ruled out this morning through injury. Fred proved that anonymity can strike twice in consecutive games.
Oscar was out of sorts, more reminiscent of the sputtering midfielder who limped to the end of the season with Chelsea, rather than the mesmerising, uplifting force against Croatia.
Again, Neymar carried the can with an admirable sense of duty, but Ochoa was equal to the task.
More worryingly, perhaps, his coach also got the better of Scolari.
He's a chubby, jokey character, but there was nothing comical about Miguel Herrera's formation. Fully aware that the Brazilians would ride a wave of national pride, he put up a seawall in a five-man defence.
Herrera had no choice. Brazil threatened to blow Mexico away from the national anthem.
When the massed choir of proud patriots finally stopped singing, Neymar wiped the tears away. Brazil threatened to wipe the floor with the Mexicans.
Fuelled by patriotic pride, the Brazilians launched themselves at their opponents.
But Herrera was ready. He anticipated the initial onslaught.
On first inspection, his wily 5-3-2 formation appeared negative. It was anything but.
Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun, in particular, were designated wingbacks, with a licence to kill space along the flank at every opportunity.
Scolari had gambled correctly on Herrera's line-up, replacing Hulk with Ramires. The Chelsea midfielder clamped himself to Layun, but Brazil's attacking forays were restricted.
Along with Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo, the Selecao's central midfield was mired in mediocrity.
After a scrappy, goalless first half, Scolari corrected the error of his wayward selection. Ramires was hauled off for Bernard, but the Mexicans proved relentless on the counter-attack. Jose Juan Vazquez, Giovani dos Santos and Hector Herrera all took aim at Julio Cesar's goal as the hosts' midfield evaporated in the warm, twilight air.
Brazil had their chances and, on another night, one of Ochoa's superb saves might have slipped beyond him.
But, on this night, the Mexicans had the measure of their opponents and deserved a point at the very least.
The Brazilians were last beaten on home soil in 2002 by Paraguay, a record stretching back some 38 games.
No wonder the Mexicans celebrated at the final whistle. They made the occasion their own. They almost made history.
More pertinently, perhaps, they exposed Brazil's soft underbelly in central midfield and Neymar's powder-puff partners.
Scolari cannot rely on the Barcelona striker's brilliance and Thiago Silva's defensive fortitude forever.
The Cameroonians should allow Brazil to temporarily paper over the cracks, but repairs are required for the knockout stages.
A World Cup in Brazil without its host nation in the latter stages will be a sucker punch too painful to bear for locals; a cruel joke on a country that has already suffered so much to bring the tournament home.
The mood is decidedly flat in Fortaleza. Only the Mexicans are celebrating.
Scolari must tinker quickly or other nations will gatecrash the party.
BLOW BY BLOW
Midway through the first half, a goalkeeper is finally tested. Julio Cesar palms over Oribe Peralta’s stinging swerving drive.
Guillermo Ochoa exhibits a cat’s reflexes to stretch low to his right to push out Neymar’s closerange header, which is spinning into the bottom corner.
From a set-piece, the ball wriggles free. Three Brazilians close in. David Luiz gets there first, but somehow, Ochoa spreads himself wide to deflect the shot.
Peralta holds the ball up intelligently and squares it back to Herrera just outside the box. He slips it to Vazquez who sends a flying, diagonal effort whistling over the bar from 25m.
Ochoa does it again. Neymar chests down Marcelo’s cross and plants one towards the bottom-right corner, but Ochoa gets his body in the way and sends it wide.
Thiago Silva rises above the defence and sends a header soaring towards the net from six metres, but Ochoa savours the game of his life. His positioning is lucky, but not his reflexes as he palms the header away.