Guillermo Ochoa saves a Paulinho effort (AFP)
FORTALEZA, June 18: Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced an inspired performance as Mexico held World Cup hosts Brazil to a frustrating 0-0 draw in Group A in Fortaleza on Tuesday. Both Brazil and Mexico shared a point each as a result of the draw with Brazil leading the Group A followed by Mexico.
Ochoa twice made decisive interventions to deny Neymar before coming up with a stunning save to keep out a Thiago Silva header from point-blank range four minutes from the end of a scrappy encounter in the steaming heat of the Castelao Stadium.
Always eager to attack themselves, Mexico were well worthy of a draw which leaves both sides level on four points in the group and, even with Croatia and Cameroon set to meet each other in Manaus on Wednesday, ensured that the two places up for grabs in the last 16 will not be decided until the final round of games on June 23.
“Playing against the favourites, on their home ground, the team showed that they can compete against absolutely anyone,” said proud Mexico coach Miguel Herrera.
“In my memory I can’t remember a goalkeeper performing like that in a World Cup,” he added of Ochoa’s display.
The enormity of the occasion clearly got to some of the Brazil players, with Neymar breaking down in tears at the end of a rousing version of the national anthem, and the home side struggled to settle in the early stages of the match.
Passes were wayward and challenges were mis-timed as the nervous energy of the crowd inside the 60,342-capacity stadium made for a frantic start to the game.
Indeed, Mexico, backed by a colourful and vociferous support of their own, initially looked the better team and had the first real chance of the afternoon, a rising strike from just outside the area by Hector Herrera that was turned over the bar by Julio Cesar in the home goal, although no corner was given.
While Mexico were unchanged from their 1-0 victory against Cameroon last Friday, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made one alteration from the side that defeated Croatia 3-1 in their opening game in Sao Paulo last Thursday, with Ramires replacing Hulk, who failed to fully shake off a niggling hamstring problem in time to start.
That meant Oscar was moved from the right flank, where he had been outstanding against Croatia, to the left.
But it was from the right that the home side created their first opening, a cross from Dani Alves being headed goalwards by Neymar at the back post, only for Ochoa to make a superb save flying low to his right.
Ochoa also did well to deny Paulinho after Silva had chested a Neymar free-kick into the Tottenham Hotspur player’s path, but otherwise the Mexican keeper was not seriously tested in a first period in which Brazil failed to stamp their authority on proceedings.
Mexican midfielder Jose Vazquez also tried his luck from range, while an agitated Scolari instructed Ramires and Oscar to change positions.
Nevertheless, the latter was ineffective and, after picking up a yellow card for a foul on Paul Aguilar, did not reappear for the second half.
Diminutive Shakhtar Donetsk winger Bernard took his place and almost had an immediate impact, latching onto a Dani Alves ball over the top before delivering a cross that almost found Neymar at the back post.
The Mexican threat remained, and both Vazquez and Hector Herrera shot narrowly over, but the biggest problem for Brazil remained Ochoa. He again came to his team’s rescue in the 69th minute, producing another decisive stop to deny Neymar, who had controlled the ball on his chest before volleying goalward. But Ochoa remained the hero to the last, brilliantly intervening after Brazil captain Silva, unmarked six yards out, connected with Neymar’s free-kick delivery from the left.
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