The goalless stalemate halts the Selecao’s 10-match winning streak and opens up Group A

There has been plenty of talk of footballing ghosts here for Brazil and the scariest one for them is generally considered to be Uruguay, what with 1950 and all that. But Mexico have also put a few skeletons in the closet of the World Cup hosts and they once again proved irksome.

No team have fared better against Brazil over the last 15 years than El Tri and they entered this collision with seven wins and four losses in 13 meetings. That did not include the victory in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games, ostensibly an under-23 game but arguably the hardest one of all for Brazil to stomach.

Mexico departed with their record further enhanced because this was not only a resilient team performance but a hugely encouraging result. The hero was the goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, who is a free agent after being released by Ajaccio — the French club who finished bottom of Ligue 1 last season to suffer relegation.

Ochoa made a first-half breathtaking save from Neymar and towards the very end he kept out Thiago Silva at point-blank range. In between times, he blocked from Paulinho and he denied Neymar again. It was quite a way to put his club toils behind him and advertise his talents to potential suitors.

Mexico struck repeatedly from distance to worry if not truly extend Julio Cesar but the Brazil goalkeeper was called upon in injury time to preserve his team’s point with a stop from the substitute Raul Jimenez.

Brazil did not deserve to lose and they could be happy enough with the draw, especially as their final Group A tie looks easier than that of Mexico. They face Cameroon while Mexico must play Croatia. But the post-match discussion centred upon whether Brazil had shown or, indeed, possessed sufficient creativity.

So much rests on Neymar in this department, even if his body language betrays little sign of the strain. He started in a central position and he went through his repertoire of tricks, some of which thrilled the crowd. The sharpness of his turns on the ball can baffle defenders.

Shortcomings

He did everything but score to emerge with credit yet the worry took in the shortcomings of what has to be termed as his supporting cast. With Oscar peripheral, Ramires replaced at half-time as a yellow card hung heavily over him and Fred ineffective upfront, Neymar at times looked like the only hope, although right-back Dani Alves was in marauding mood. There was little incision from central midfield.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the manager, sought to play up the positives, saying that his team had played “10 per cent better” than they had in victory over Croatia in the opening game. He offered praise to Mexico and to Ochoa, in particular, and he noted that “one point can make the difference” between reaching the last 16 or not.

It was an afternoon of sticky heat and relentless intensity, with the tone having been set by the outpouring of emotion during the national anthems. Neymar could be seen wiping away the tears. Brazil posed most of the questions in the first half, with Neymar and Dani Alves prominent. Neymar forced Ochoa into the save of the night and, perhaps, the tournament when he beat Rafael Marquez to thump a header towards the bottom corner. Ochoa flung himself across to claw to safety. Paulinho had the big chance of the first half on 44 minutes, after Thiago Silva had chested Dani Alves’ free-kick into his path but Ochoa was out smartly to block.

“I don’t know whether I can think of a better goalkeeping performance,” Miguel Herrera, the Mexico manager, said. “[Jorge] Campos was outstanding but ‘Memo’ made high-level saves. It’s true that there was a doubt over his starting position before the World Cup but he has lived up to our expectations of him.”

Work ethic

Mexico’s work ethic and organisation was matched by their tidiness in possession and they knitted together pleasing moves, getting the wing-backs forward and the midfielders into shooting positions.

Jose Juan Vazquez and Hector Herrera peppered Julio Cesar’s goal, Guardado fizzed just over the crossbar and, moments later, there was Cesar’s save from Jimenez’s blast.

Brazil had summoned a late surge. Neymar chested down the substitute Bernard’s cross in the 70th minute before working Ochoa while another substitute, Jo, dragged wide of the far post.

The most gilt-edged chance fell to Thiago Silva. The Brazil captain, who had earlier trodden on Marquez, was booked for scything through the Mexico substitute, Javier Hernandez, but glory beckoned for him when he attacked Neymar’s free-kick.

All alone, he seemed certain to score and his header was firm. Ochoa, though, stood tall.

The Ochoa dossier

  • The 28-year-old, part of Mexico’s squads in 2006 and 2010, made his World Cup finals debut this edition.
  • Currently a free agent after ending a three-season spell with AC Ajaccio, relegated this year from Ligue 1
  • Not tall for a ’keeper at an even 6ft, but credited by experts with world-class positioning, athleticism, and reflexes
  • Had nearly two million Twitter mentions during the match; Gordon Banks, whose iconic 1970 save off Pele Ochoa brought to mind, also trended

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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