The first game of the second round of games was an excellent proof of Jonathan Wilson’s dictum that goals are overrated, as it proved one of the most thrilling matches of the tournament despite ending in a scoreless draw. Credit for that definitely goes to Mexico, who were equally bright in their 1-0 victory against Cameroon. They certainly proved that Brazil’s opening performance was more than a mere wobble, as well as underlining the folly of assuming that qualifying form will carry over to the tournament. With one round of games completed, it would appear that the death of tiki-taka has had as its corollary the death of parking the bus. Both pronouncements, of course, are premature for the tournament and in football more generally. But why be measured or reasonable?
Miguel Herrera made no changes to Mexico’s starting XI or 3-5-2. Felipe Scolari replaced Hulk with the more defensively responsible and pacier Ramires, deploying him along with Oscar on the flanks, and leaving Neymar free in the middle (though he and Oscar were relatively fluid positionally). Little change for either team, as it turns out, translated into relatively similar performances from both sides.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mex) – This performance was hard to miss, right?
Man of the match couldn’t have been much easier to pick. For all the good things that Mexico did in this game, Brazil were one fantastic goaltending performance away from collecting their second undeserved three points. Currently unsigned (his club Ajaccio was just relegated), he will likely be the first World Cup signing–if you’re in the market, don’t think you can wait until the end of the tournament to do this business.
Héctor Herrera, José Juan Vásquez, Andrés Guardado (Mex) – The most telling statistic (after Ochoa’s 6 saves) was the fact that Mexico’s three most prolific passers were their midfield trio (right wing-back Paul Aguilar–and yes, that is his first name–was the fourth), while Brazil’s top four passers were their back four (with holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo tied for fourth). Scolari’s attention to Mexico’s wing backs (Ramires and Oscar may well be his most talented defensive midfielders–certainly, they are his best two-way players) left Neymar stranded in the midfield ahead of Brazil’s holders. He was a serious threat on the break throughout, but at the cost of essentially ceding possession to Mexico once they settled down. Particularly in the second half, Mexico was able to turn that possession to good effect and looked the more dangerous side until Brazil’s frantic finale. Soclari’s introduction of Bernard for Ramires and Jô for Fred created more attacking thrust but not a different game plan, though he did move Oscar to the center and Neymar out left in the second half. In fairness, Brazil very nearly stole the game, so it’s not clear that Scolari’s decision wasn’t the right one, absent Ochoa’s performance.
Thiago Silva (Bra) – Thiago Silva certainly looked like the best center-back in the world on the day. If Ochoa was the difference-maker for Mexico, Silva was the reason for Brazil’s clean sheet. His intelligence and understanding of how to play alongside the more aggressive David Luiz was a joy to watch.