There may have been no goals but there was plenty of drama at Fortaleza. A superbly disciplined and tactically astute Mexico denied hosts Brazil and gave Luiz Felipe Scolari a lot to chew on as he prepares his troops for their final group encounter with Cameroon. His Mexican counterpart Miguel Herrera on the other hand will reflect on a job well done and perhaps feel that El Tri could have even sneaked a win had their shooting been just that little bit more accurate.
1. Mexican tactics spot on:
Mexico’s dismal qualifying campaign seems like a distant memory now as they produced a fantastic performance to hold Brazil. To be fair Mexico have form against Brazil winning seven of their previous 13 internationals as well as beating the Seleção in the Olympic football final in 2012 to win the gold. Interestingly, Neymar, Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Oscar played in that final.
A huge amount of credit has to go to Miguel Herrera for superbly preparing his side for this clash. Not many would have predicted that his Mexican team would draw against Brazil let alone keep a clean sheet. The Mexicans went into the match playing a 5-3-2 and having an extra man at the back proved to be key as Mexico intelligently managed to keep Brazil at bay. Fantastically marshaled by Rafael Márquez, El Tri managed to stifle Brazil’s front four crowding the man on the ball before nipping in to force an error and steal possession. In front of them the midfield trio played smartly as well moving the ball swiftly and countering effectively.
The Mexican’s willingness to take the game to Brazil was hugely important because it prevented the Brazilians from squeezing up the pitch and pinning them down. Indeed Mexico looked dangerous going forward with Oribe Peralta, who scored in the Olympic final, putting in a huge shift up front.
If we’re going to be extremely critical of Mexico then they will be disappointed with their efforts on goal. They had a number of shots but not enough tested Júlio César. Whilst they earned a creditable point El Tri could have walked away with all three.
Mexico was tactically superb and deserve all the plaudits they get for maintaining their discipline and levels of concentration throughout the entire match. It was by no means an easy feat to achieve.
Even when the Brazilian’s created clear chances the Mexican’s had a veritable wall in goal.
2. Guillermo Ochoa stands tall:
When Brazil managed to create clear-cut opportunities Ochoa was equal to each and every effort they could muster. His save to prevent Neymar’s goal bound header was simply breathtaking. Ochoa came out smartly to block Paulinho’s effort after he was put through by a great piece of improvisation from Thiago Silva. He once again thwarted Neymar when the Brazilian star lashed a volley goal wards and then made an impressive reflex save when Thiago Silva had a clear header on goal.
Ochoa’s level of concentration, his alertness and reflexes played huge part in ensuring that Mexico kept a clean.
3. Miguel Herrera has a big task ahead:
Drawing against Brazil in Brazil in a World Cup to boot will probably rank as one of Miguel Herrera’s best achievement with Mexico. However he cannot rest on his laurels as he’ll need to prepare his team against a tricky Croatian outfit. The Mexicans put in a huge effort against Brazil and one cannot underestimate how physically, mentally and emotionally draining that was on the players.
Herrera will once again need to prepare his team and ensure that their focus remains fixed on qualification. Mexico is in a good position to qualify and it would be such a shame after putting in such a great performance against Brazil if they fall flat against Croatia.
4. Fred fails but what are the alternatives?
Luiz Felipe Scolari may be ruing Diego Costa’s decision to plump his allegiances with Spain rather than the country of his birth. It’s certainly hard to think of Costa performing much worse than Fred whose only significant contribution to this World Cup was to win a dubious penalty against Croatia. Fred had a game to forget as he posed no real threat to the Mexican goal and only completed 8 out of 16 passes.
The problem is his like for like replacement, Jo, isn’t that much better. On one of the few occasions the Brazilians managed to get behind the Mexican backline Jo could only snatch at his shot and send the ball wide.
Scolari will need to find more goals in his team as he can’t rely on Neymar, who did all he could to win this game bar score, to dig his team out of a hole in each and every match.
So what are the options? Does he keep faith in Fred? Does he replace him with Jo against Cameroon? Does he pair them together? Does he change his line-up or formation? There are a lot of questions for Scolari to ponder but hard find one where the answer is Fred.
5. Neymar needs help:
On any other day Brazil would have probably converted one of their big chances and walked away with a win. However they came up against Guillermo Ochoa who chose this match to have the game of his life.
That said a victory would not have covered over the cracks and shouldn’t disguise the fact that they required more invention in attack.
Credit to Neymar who once again didn’t hide, demanded the ball and did his level best to try and win the game for his side and saw two great efforts pushed away by Ochoa. Neymar has tricks and skills in abundance but he has also demonstrated that he’s a strong character and a leader despite his young age.
However if Neymar isn’t firing who can Brazil rely on to score their goals? This is a question that Scolari needs to answer and answer quickly. As pertinent a question is whether Brazil is, dare I say it, a tad predictable?
The fullbacks got forward at regular intervals but couldn’t supply the ammunition for the front men whilst Thiago Silva was far more threatening in the opposing penalty box than both Fred and Jo. Oscar wasn’t as effective as he was against Croatia. Bernard when he came on in the second half provided flashes of inspiration but Scolari didn’t have an answer to unlock Mexico’s five man defense and seemed reluctant to replace one of Paulinho or Luis Gustavo with a more attack minded player.
In all truth Brazil didn’t need to go all guns blazing for the win as they have one more group game to negotiate against Cameroon which the Seleção should win. This performance overall was better than their opening clash with Croatia but there’s still some cause for concern. Neymar’s teammates will need to lift their game and support the Barcelona striker. He has already dug his teammates out of a hole against Croatia and deserves better from a number of his Brazilian brethren.