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Brazil vs. Mexico: How the hosts were held by El Tri

Two games, two disappointing performances. Are Brazil really built to win the World Cup?

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

Needing a tie against Brazil to nose ahead of Croatia in the race for second in Group A, Mexico duly got one, holding the Selecao to a 0-0 draw in Fortaleza. This was hardly a repeat of the tournament's other 0-0 scoreline, however it was a thrilling ride that saw both teams create (and waste) great chances to go ahead.

How did El Tri manage to hold the favourites scoreless? It had a lot to do with the outstanding performance of 'Memo' Guillermo Ochoa in goal, but perhaps more to do with the Selecao's flaws, which are becoming more obvious by the game.


Brazil (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo; Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho; Oscar, Neymar, Ramires; Fred.

Mexico (3-5-2): 'Memo' Guillermo Ochoa; 'Maza' Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno; Paul Aguilar, Hector Herrera, Jose Vazquez, Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun; Giovani dos Santos, Oribe Peralta.

We've seen 3-5-2 versus 4-2-3-1 already in this tournament, and just like in the first half of Argentina's win over Bosnia-Herzegovina, the latter shape dominated play in the centre of the pitch but failed to find the net. That's probably where the similarities end, however. Alejandro Sabella's Argentina were looking to roll their opponents over, while here, Mexico's 3-5-2 was hoping to draw Brazil's fullbacks forward and hit them on the counterattack.

Ramires receiving a yellow card against Mexico, Photo credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

With Hulk injured, Luiz Felipe Scolari had a selection dilemma on the right wing. He chose Chelsea midfielder Ramires for the role, overlooking the likes of Bernard and Willian the latter is particularly amusing because Willian is a regular starter ahead of Ramires at club level and that decision backfired rather spectacularly, with Ramires contributing little but a yellow card before being hauled off at halftime.

Oscar was fielded on the left wing but constantly drifted inside to help keep possession in midfield, resolving one major issue from the Croatia game, but at the same time Oscar's movement left Brazil without a genuine threat on the left barring Marcelo's runs up the pitch it was a sacrifice of control in the centre for attacking penetration. Against Croatia, Oscar attempted seven crosses as a right winger, but here he only tried three.

Brazil dominated possession, and despite Mexico coming close a number of times with speculative long-range efforts, it was clear which side was on top of the match: the hosts created the bulk of the real scoring chances, and Mexico (perhaps surprisingly, considering Dani Alves' aggressive positioning) weren't able to work any of the flank overloads that had served them so well against Cameroon. El Tri's first and only shot from inside the penalty area came in the 78th minute, by which point Memo Ochoa had made half a dozen saves.

Ochoa shuts down Brazil

Ochoa, currently a free agent after being relegated with French side Ajaccio last season, dominated the match. His first-half save from Neymar's header was genuinely excellent he had to jump full stretch to his right and claw the ball back from over the line while in midair and Brazil became increasingly frustrated by their inability to get past him.

But Ochoa was helped a great deal by some awful finishing. After the Neymar save, none of his stops were technically very difficult, and on several occasions Brazil would certainly have scored had they not drilled the ball straight at the goalkeeper. That's not to take anything away from the performance, of course Ochoa's positioning was superb and his ability to keep the ball away from danger when he was unable to control it ensured that the Selecao couldn't take advantage of any friendly rebounds but  the lack of goals was probably more Brazil's fault than a mark of goalkeeping genius.

Brazil's problems

When a side dominates possession, creates chances and is unable to find the net, it's easy to point to the centre forward as a potential issue, and Fred had a quiet game*. He's never been a top-level striker, and it's shocking that the Selecao have had to rely on him. Brazil don't really have any other choice, however Diego Costa's defection to Spain means that they don't have the striker needed to unlock a defence when the likes of Neymar and Oscar (who both had good, but not great games here) can't.

*Not that we should have expected Fred to do well he was up against three central defenders, and the trio of Rafa Marquez, Maza and Hector Moreno were very good on the night.

What they can fix, however, is the midfield. The pivot of Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo is clearly the weak link of the side, and although exceptions can be made for the latter, a solid, reliable defensive midfielder, Paulinho is both clearly struggling and easily replaceable. He's demonstrated his knack of getting into excellent positions so far this tournament, but he's also shown a disconcerting inability to make the most of them once he receives the ball.

At this point it would be a surprise if Scolari isn't at least considering replacing Paulinho in the starting lineup. His inclusion's always been at least a little questionable, and his play hasn't helped Brazil at all so far. The most interesting option might be to use Dante in central defence and push David Luiz into a more advanced midfield position. He's more technically gifted than Paulinho and has the energy and drive to serve as a solid box-to-box player toward the end of the match he was frequently swapping places with Luiz Gustavo in an attempt to help spur on the attack.

But no matter how the current issues are patched, it's pretty obvious Brazil are a flawed side. If they win the tournament, it will surely be thanks to the advantages playing on their home turf affords.