Story of the game
Both Brazil and Mexico arrived at their second round match having secured all three points in the previous game. The 3-1 scoreline for Brazil against Croatia did flatter them slightly, with more than debatable decisions going their way at crucial points in the game. Even so, the world expected the hosts to continue their winning form against Mexico and after making only one change to the line-up; Ramires for Hulk, consistency could prove key.
The first period of the match was very even and set off at quite a fast pace indeed. While Brazil looked dangerous to a degree, every thrusting attack was more than matched by stoic Mexican defending. After soaking up sustained pressure, Rafael Marquez and his team were certainly not averse to springing counter attacks of their own, often with their talismanic captain as the instigator. Dani Alves and Marcelo did deliver a few crosses into the box, and Neymar and Oscar frequently cut in-field either looking for an effort on goal or to set up Fred. Whether it was their repeatedly successful offside trap, commanding aerial presence, or strength in the tackle, the trio of Mexican central defenders restricted Brazil’s frightening attack to pot-shots from distance.
In the final throes of first half football, Brazil did begin to exert some dominance and a few chances fell to their forwards. The future looked ominous for Mexico, who in the end were glad for the half-time whistle. They needed refreshing to give them the best chance of going again for another 45 minutes, while it was obvious that Scolari needed to make a change at the interval. This came in the form of a personnel change which also resulted in a tactical switch. Surprisingly, the hapless Fred remained in the action and Chelsea’s Ramires was withdrawn for Bernard. Now Neymar, Oscar, and Bernard were constantly looking to push forward and alternate positions in behind Fred. The Mexican defensive unit were not deterred however, instead looking increasingly determined.
On the occasions where Marquez and his partners at the back were breached, ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa was ready and waiting to deny the hosts. He made absolutely vital saves from a Neymar header, punched every cross well clear of his goal, and made body saves from every imaginable angle. Meanwhile, Brazil could not totally discount the defensive side of their performance, with Mexico drawing on energy from somewhere to make scything forays into Brazilian territory. Julio Cesar was certainly not untested as he was forced to tip a couple of strikes over his bar and parry a well-struck swerving shot.
Despite the introduction of forward Jo and then Willian late on, Brazil simply could not find a way through an incredibly stubborn back line. You could feel the frustration emanating from the crowd after their expectations of a win were not realised. After such a display, Mexico deserved to pick up a point which left both sides on 4 points with 1 more group stage game to play. The progression of Brazil from the first round is now not as straightforward as everyone had imagined it would be, making for a fascinating end to this group’s action.
Brazil: César, Alves, Silva (capt), Luiz, Marcelo, Ramires (Bernard – 45’), Gustavo, Paulinho, Oscar (Willian – 84’), Neymar, Fred (Jo – 68’).
Mexico: Ochoa, Aguilar, Rodriguez, Marquez (capt), Moreno, Layun, Herrera (Fabian -76’), Vasquez, Guardado, dos Santos (Jiménez – 84’), Peralta (Hernandez – 74’).
12. Julio César – 7. Plenty of Mexican shots flew just past the woodwork, but for those that did test him, he stood up every time to usually parry away to safety.
2. Dani Alves – 5. His new haircut certainly did not bring good fortune to his display, landing some rash tackles, and was not his usual incisive self going forward.
3. Thiago Silva – 7. A very solid performance by the captain in terms of quality and leadership. Every effort was made to rouse his team, and his presence in the air was substantial.
4. David Luiz – 5. Clumsy in the tackle and lazy in possession, we saw some of the worst of David Luiz. A couple of flicks and tricks shouldn’t paint over his defensive frailty.
6. Marcelo – 7. One of the few Brazilians who injected any pace into their attacks and progressed well into opposition territory. He was occasionally suspect defensively, and soured his performance by a disgraceful show of cheating in the last few minutes.
16. Ramires – 5. Gave away a few cynical fouls and picked up a booking as a culmination of these. He wasn’t able to use his tremendous engine and stamina to trouble Mexico.
17. Gustavo – 6. A solid display but nothing more. He filled in well defensively when David Luiz was further up the pitch and his distribution was as expected.
8. Paulinho – 5. Had little to no impact on the game, didn’t seem hungry, and was nowhere near as combative as usual. Surprisingly stayed on for the full 90 minutes.
11. Oscar 6. – Didn’t hit the heights of his fantastic performance against Croatia and while there were some bright glimpses, they didn’t come to anything and he was far too unpredictable.
10. Neymar – 5. One of his poorest games in recent memory in a Brazil shirt. His usual mazy dribbles petered out when he took on too many defenders at one and he was petulant at times. A couple of good chances fell his way and Ochoa came out on top both times.
9. Fred – 4. Not much better than woeful in all honesty. He failed to link up with his team mates, didn’t provide a platform for others to play off, and was repeatedly caught offside.
20. Bernard – 4. Came on at half time and contributed next to nothing. Misplaced passes a plenty and poor decision making typified his day.
21. Jo – 5. Didn’t add any more quality than the shockingly poor Fred, but at least he visibly tried to threaten, making runs behind the defence and showing for the ball.
19. Willian – N/A. Only on the pitch for less than 10 minutes, therefore it is impossible to judge his World Cup debut objectively, but he may get the nod ahead of Bernard in the future.
13. Guillermo Ochoa – 9. An outstanding performance involving all sorts of saves and punches. He came out to narrow angles brilliantly, pulled off reaction saves and tips around the post. All in all, a perfect goal-keeper’s display.
22. Paul Aguilar – 7. He covered an amazing distance, tracking Marcelo all day long and defending admirably against whoever was on Brazil’s left flank.
2. Francisco Javier Rodriguez – 7.
4. Rafael Marquez – 8. A true captain’s performance; never afraid to take the ball out from the back and put his body on the line for his side.
15. Hector Moreno – 8. Caught the eye with a series of strong challenges on tricky forwards and composure when pressed deep in his own half.
7. Miguel Layun – 6. Caught out of position more regularly than his fellow defenders but thankfully it didn’t cost his side. Still did a stellar job against much more talented opposition.
6. Hector Herrera – 7. Travelled well with and without the ball all over the pitch but predominantly on the right of a midfield 3. He helped to stifle Brazil’s flow.
23. José Juan Vasquez – 7. A diminutive figure but he was by no means dominated by more physically imposing players. He put in some serious work in the centre of midfield.
18. Andres Guardado – 7. Added a touch of guile to the hard working midfield trio and was able to relieve the pressure on his side with some lung-busting runs and intricate dribbles.
10. Giovani dos Santos – 7. Brilliant in flashes as he beat a couple of players in dribbles and worked hard throughout, he added a touch of the mercurial.
19. Oribe Peralta 6. – Did test Silva and Luiz from time to time given little opportunity. A couple of driving runs were made at the heart of Brazil’s defence which came to nothing.
14. Javier Hernandez – 5. Brought on to stretch the Brazilian defenders and to bring a poacher’s instinct. He had a couple of half chances at best but certainly kept the centre-halves occupied.
8. Marco Fabian – 5. Gave additional legs to a tiring midfield and helped them maintain the high pressing tactics to pick up a point.
9. Raul Jiménez – 5. A few signs of promise but nothing more, winning a corner for his side in the dying moments.
Man of the Match
I could easily give Man of the Match to any one of Mexico’s three centre-backs on the night, as they were all magnificent. Captain Marquez in particular led by example, mixing controlled aggression in his tackling with composure when taking the ball out of defence. He defied his aging legs and played like a 24 year old, not the 34 year old he truly is. In any normal circumstance, he would have been Man of the Match by a distance.
However, I have to give it to the Mexican goalkeeper; Guillermo Ochoa. In such a cauldron of Brazilian passion and facing one of the world’s most dangerous forwards in Neymar, he was somehow the calmest man in the entire stadium. Marvellous saves a plenty made even better by his acrobatic style will be the most memorable parts of the game. On many occasions, he advanced towards an onrushing striker, stayed as big as possible and, Schmeichel-esque at times, blocked the attempt at goal. Denying Thiago Silva from a powerful close-range header in the dying embers of the game was the icing on top of the cake. While he did not seem absolutely sure how he had managed to pull off some of the saves, the free agent will surely be attracting the interest of some of Europe’s top clubs following such a high-profile display.