Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa stands tall to thwart Brazil
Neymar's blond ambition was no match for Guillermo Ochoa last night as the Mexico keeper frustrated the hosts and their talisman in a fiercely contested Group A match, which could easily have delivered only Brazil's second group stage defeat in 44 years.
Brazil 0 Mexico 0
With his hair freshly dyed for the occasion in Fortaleza Neymar seemed hell bent on smoothing the Selecao's route to the second round but too few of the support task were in the same mood, while Mexico's custodian was hell bent on frustrating any that tried.
The last of Ochoa's saves was from Brazil captain Thiago Silva, who met Neymar's free-kick perfectly but, from six yards out, needed to put it either side of the keeper who plays in France with AC Ajaccio.
Marcelo had a penalty shout dismissed correctly during a frenetic finish before the excellent Andres Guardado skimmed the roof of the Brazilian net and substitute Raul Jimenez drew a fine save from Julio Cesar.
Tied at the top of the group with four points each, Brazil and Mexico will go into their final matches against Cameroon and Croatia respectively knowing a win will guarantee them safe passage. The host country could be an edgy place for the next six days.
It was inside this ground, against this opposition, last year that the singing of the second verse of Hino Nacional Brasileiro became a sensation and once more the Fortaleza crowd delivered a spine-tingling rendition of the Brazil national anthem after the Fifa-approved backing track went silent.
Neymar looked genuinely moved at the end, dropping to his knee and taking a moment to absorb the enormity of the occasion, but any fears that it might overwhelm Brazil's talisman were soon put to rest. After a sluggish beginning for the hosts, the No 10 slowly brought Brazil into the game.
Bolstered by a convincing opening round win over Cameroon, the Mexico coach Miguel Herrera spoke on Monday about the importance of trying to cow the massive home support with a frenetic start, as Croatia did in São Paulo on the opening day of the tournament.
It worked for a time but Brazil could have been in front when Oscar's 11th minute cross was inexplicably missed from five yards by Fred – the linesman's flag saving his blushes.
But then Neymar took control, the 22-year-old's through ball perfectly weighted for Fred, whose left-foot shot was blocked by defender Hector Moreno before Marcelo's cross deflected off his team-mate Paulinho for a goal-kick. Not always renowned for his defending, Marcelo stood up well as Oribe Peralta, Mexico's goalscorer against Cameroon, ran powerfully at him down the right channel.
Mexico, roared on by their colourful fans, came back into the game after a quiet spell with Hector Herrera forcing Julio Cesar into making a magnificent save and the ball went out for what should have been a corner.
Barcelona full-back Dani Alves is happier going forward and it was his cross that Neymar jumped brilliantly to meet, only for Guillermo Ochoa to dive brilliantly to his right to save. Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, who stands nine centimetres taller than Neymar, was comfortably outjumped by the Brazil No 10.
Fred's lack of a killer finish and habit of straying offside notwithstanding, going forward Brazil looked slick but at the back they looked less than convincing and on the sidelines Scolari looked to be getting increasingly hot under the collar of his white polo neck.
The Mexico midfielder Jose Vasquez had Cesar scampering across goal when he was allowed to shoot from distance, but it was Ochoa who was once more called into action before half-time. The Mexican goalkeeper made a superb point-black save after a Brazil free-kick pinballed its way to the feet of Ramires, who was selected ahead of his Chelsea team-mate Willian in place of the injured Hulk, but was replaced himself at half-time by Bernard.
The Shakhtar Donetsk man nearly made an immediate impact for Brazil after the break as he forced Francisco Rodriguez to head his raking cross clear for a corner.
Mexico were not to be outdone however and, with their fans now in much better voice than the more plentiful hosts, Herrera's men advanced and once more Vasquez threatened the goal with a shot from distance and Giovani dos Santos scuffed a shot at Cesar.
Scolari was once more drawn to the edge of his technical area when, seconds later, Herrera smacked a shot just over the crossbar.
The hosts and tournament favourites were on the ropes.
It was Neymar who lifted the siege, drawing a foul from a Mexican defender and taking the resulting 30-yard free kick himself. A little to the left of goal, his curling effort flew just wide of Ochoa's despairing grasp, and the post.
But Brazil were second to the ball all over the pitch, particularly in the middle, where Herrera, Vasquez and Guardado were combining industry with guile. Brazil's attack appeared to have one, peroxide blonde, outlet.
Fred was particularly poor and it was no surprise to see him replaced by fellow forward Jo in the 68th minute. Call it coincidence but seconds later Brazil had their best chance of the second half as Ochoa once more saved brilliantly from Neymar at the far post.
Manchester United's Javier Hernandez was given 17 minutes to find a winner for Mexico and quickly forced David Luiz into a smart piece of defending. Minutes later Luiz's defensive partner for club and country Thiago Silva was booked for an ugly hack on the striker.
Brazil's attacking substitutions almost combined for the winner with 15 minutes to, Bernard sliding a perfectly weighted pass through for former Everton and Manchester City striker Jo, who dragged his left foot across goal.
It was one of those nights for the hosts, who must have suspected there would be speed bumps this month. Now they know they can't afford one in Brasilia next week. (© Independent News Service)