Group A: Cup half full for Selecao

They huffed, puffed and failed to blow the house down, but Dominic Neo explains why it was a point gained, and not two lost for Brazil against El Tri and the Mexican Jesus.

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Professional football is all about results. Contrary to most post-match narratives of a disappointed Brazil being held by the spirited underdogs Mexico – especially after the heroics of Guillermo Ochoa – this was a great outcome for the hosts of the 2014 World Cup. In fact, they would have settled for this point at the start of the match.  

The last competitive match between Brazil and Mexico was the 2012 Olympic gold medal match, with an energetic Mexico side trumping a lackluster Brazil 2-1, thanks to an Oribe Peralta brace. Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Oscar, Neymar and Hulk were amongst those defeated, and they will remember spurning the opportunity to win Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal in men’s football. 

Fast forward to 2014: Peralta grabs an important winner against Cameroon whilst an underwhelming Brazil rode their luck to a barely deserved victory against Croatia. With the ghosts of that 2012 match weighing down on Brazil’s back and Peralta-inspired winds propelling Mexico’s sails, this was a game that could have gone much worse for Brazil.  

The teams’ tactical set-up from the get-go was telling. Mexico was unchanged – and confidently so, with Mexico’s manager, Miguel Herrera, tweeting the lineup a day before the game – whilst Brazil drafted in a more defensive option in Ramires instead of Bernard for the injured Hulk, who has been absorbing gamma rays in a lab somewhere to expedite his recovery.

As previously mentioned in this blog, Mexico’s wingback system seems to counteract Brazil’s marauding fullbacks. The selection of Ramires was clearly made with the intention of nullifying Mexico’s threat on the wings. Brazil played a more conservative 4-4-1-1, with Ramires and Oscar tucking in on the wings, and Neymar roaming behind Fred. This was a team set up to stifle, not to dominate. 

Indeed, the statistics tell the story of a very even match between two technically gifted sides (Brazil in yellow; Mexico in white):

Both sides were cautious throughout, careful not to make mistakes and to deny the opposition space and time to build up passing moves. Mexico were tidy and feisty, with the engine room of Andres Guardado, Jose Vazquez and Hector Herrera hustling and moving play along neatly. Brazil stuttered throughout the game, coming alive only sporadically. A glorious Dani Alves through ball over the top in the second-half released Bernard, but his cross was well cleared before Neymar could apply the finish. In truth, Brazil never really got going, especially with Paulinho and Fred still pretending to be professional football players. It is frankly quite embarrassing for a central midfielder to complete 22/28 passes and to win only one tackle in 90 minutes. Fred somehow contrived to do even worse than Paulinho, completing a shocking 8/16 passes and mustering one shot on target in 68 minutes. Excuse me while I apply for Brazilian citizenship, since it seems so easy to play for their team.

While Brazil had the more clear-cut chances, Mexico went close with several long shots too. Their shoot-on-sight strategy caused Julio Cesar a few problems, especially in the second-half when serial opportunist Javier Hernandez came on to feed off rebounds. Indeed, Chicharito came close when Jimenez’s pile driver forced Julio Cesar to almost parry the ball into the Manchester United striker’s path. Fine margins.

There were, however, no such margins separating the Mexican goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, from the headlines. He put up a commanding display, denying Brazil the smash and grab victory that they were set up for. Ochoa made several stunning point-blank saves to keep David Luiz, Neymar and Thiago Silva out. This save to keep out a Neymar header, which was headed for the bottom corner, was particularly outstanding:

The man is surely a cheetah-human hybrid, judging by those lightning reflexes. Or he could be, as Wikipedia pointed out at one point in history, a wall and the Mexican Jesus: 

Hilarious hyperbole aside, both sides will be pleased with the point. Brazil have an easy closing match against an insipid Cameroon, whilst Mexico have a 1-point advantage over Croatia, barring an unlikely Cameroon upset tonight. This was a tricky match for Brazil; one they could have very easily lost. Instead, they got a point that puts them in the driver’s seat for the second-round, especially with an evenly-matched Croatia and Mexico yet to play each other. They’ll have to be much better against the likes of Netherlands and Germany, for sure, but a clean sheet and another battling display puts them en route to the round of 16. This was a point gained, and not two points lost for Brazil.

A delusional, self-absorbed man-child still waiting for the call to take over Steven Gerrard’s No. 8 jersey, you can find Dominic skewing volleys over school gates with his mates by day and living the real life on Football Manager by night.