The favorites have been handed their first blemish, and in the process, a Mexico side that barely made Brazil 2014 assuaged doubts that their qualifying form were persist at the 2014 World Cup. After 90 minutes in Fortaleza, El Tri had earned a 0-0 draw against Brazil, leaving the North American powers even with the tournament hosts at the top of Group A.
Controlling the first half, Brazil nearly took the lead three times, though Fred, Neymar, and David Luiz each missed opportunities to open the scoring before intermission. After the break, a revitalized Mexico took more control, though the half’s best chance saw Thiago Silva nearly claim full points from Brazil in the 86th minute. A late chance for Raul Jimenez forced a diving punch by Júlio César, but come full-time, a game of two markedly different halves ended as it started. Brazil had dropped its first points of the tournament.
The teams will finish play in Group A on Monday when the hosts face Cameroon in Brasília while Mexico takes on Croatia in Recife. Both teams, sitting on four points after two games, can advance to the final 16 with victories in their final matches.
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Any expectations Mexico would settle into its underdog role were dispelled at the opening whistle, with a contentious Tricolor proving more energetic over the opening minutes. Once Brazil settled in, the match swung the way of the favorites, with the middle of the period defined by occasional Mexico possession breaking up Brazilian control.
That control produced the favorites’ first big chance in the 11th minute when a ball played from Oscar saw Fred shoot wide from close range. Two minutes later, a giveaway at the edge of Mexico’s defensive third led to a near-chance in transition, while a header from Neymar in the 26th minute forced a diving stop from Guillermo Ochoa. Come halftime, Brazil had registered four shots on target, with a late chance for David Luiz nearly giving the hosts a lead minutes before intermission.
Despite that advantage, Brazil changed at halftime, introducing Bernard at the expense of Ramires. The Chelsea midfielder had started in place of Hulk but to little effect, with Bernard eclipsing his contributions when a 48th minute cross nearly found Neymar at Ochoa’s right post. Francisco Rodriguez tracked the run and headed the ball out of play, thwarting the home side’s first chance of the half.
Ten minutes into the half, however, the quality Mexico’s midfield lacked over the first half had begun to emerge, with Hector Herrera and the rest of El Tri’s three-man middle winning more 50-50 balls in the center of the park. As a result, José Juan Vazquez was able to tee-off from distance in the 55th minute, while a deflected shot from Giovani Dos Santos moments later represented Mexico’s second try in minutes. When, in the 57th minute, Herrera put a left-footed blast from 19 yards into the crowd, Mexico’s strong start to the second half had been confirmed.
Through the 69th minute, Mexico’s control continued, but when the Selecao was able to find Dani Alves at Ochoa’s left post, their progress was nearly rendered moot. Bringing a ball from wide down onto his left foot, Alves hit a hard half-volley just inside the upright. Ochoa, however, was there to make one of his six stops. When he claimed an ensuing cross, the out-of-contract keeper had defused another Brazil opportunity.
The chance signaled a turn in the game. Whereas Mexico had asserted itself over the half’s first 20 minutes, Brazil started to find opportunities as the game reached its final chapter. Suddenly an underdog that had opened up to chase an upset was forced to reassess. Forcing Mexico to make a number of vital stops just outside its penalty area, Brazil was again dictating play.
In the 86th minute, the favorites had their last chance. After Luiz Gustavo drew a foul deep down Mexico’s right, a restart played to the edge of the six-yard box connected with an unmarked Thiago Silva, but the Brazilian captain’s header found Ochoa, who pushed the game’s chance out of goal.
The save not only kept Ochoa’s clean sheet but kept Mexico tied on top of Group A, with the team’s unlikely point from the tournament hosts meaning only goal difference separates two teams that have collected four points. Though one will celebrate while the other laments the result in Fortaleza, both teams will enter Monday’s final group games knowing a win books them a place in the second round.
Brazil: Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva (c), David Luiz, Marcelo, Paulinho, Fred (Jô 68′), Neymar, Oscar (William 84′), Ramires (Bernard 46′), Luiz Gustavo
Mexico: Ochoa, Rodriguez, Marquez (c), Herrera (Fabian 76′), Layun, Dos Santos (Jimenez 84′), Moreno, Guardado, Peralta (Hernández 74′), Aguilar, Vazquez