COMMENT: With the Barcelona star unable to break his shackles against a well-organised Mexico side, Scolari's side looked worrying bereft of ideas
Mexico might not have managed to inflict a bloody nose to World Cup hosts Brazil on Tuesday afternoon, but as they battled to a scoreless draw in Fortaleza, the north Americans helped to expose the limitations on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad.
A 3-1 win in their opening match was rather masked by a soft penalty award and the excellence of Neymar, but with the young Barcelona star for once mute in the gold of his country, the lack of other options open to Felipao was brutally exposed.
Fred, in particular, had a laborious match. The supposed spearhead of the Brazil side failed to threaten Guillermo Ochoa’s goal and was lamentable in much of his hold-up play, meaning that Neymar’s talents were often pushed into the shadows. Despite this, the Barcelona star still draw a couple of world-class stops from the visiting keeper.
The Fluminense forward has been described as this generation’s Serginho – a big, lumbering presence, with whom the team can succeed in spite of his presence.
But can they?
When Fred finally plodded off after a pedestrian hour, on came Jo, who offered an identical problem to the man he had replaced. Technically inadequate and not particularly sharp in front of goal, he is not the striker of a team aiming to win the World Cup.
Oscar offered a sparkling piece of skill early in the game that culminated with Fred, who had strayed offside in any case, striking wide of the target, yet this was an all too fleeting cameo from the Chelsea midfielder, who had abetted Neymar excellently in the victory over Croatia.
Hulk’s absence on the right was not seen as a crippling blow, with Scolari opting instead to play the more workmanlike Ramires, presumably as a response to combat the wing-backs of the visiting side. But he was a ghostly presence in the opening period, and with Brazil offering little offensive threat, was withdrawn at the break.
Bernard didn't make an impact either and if anything his arrival was to the detriment of the hosts, who were increasingly forced backwards as the Mexican wide players imposed themselves in an attacking sense.
Indeed, it was fitting that Brazil’s last great chance fell to centre-back Thiago Silva, whose thumping header was straight at Ochoa. While the Mexico goalkeeper enjoyed a stellar game, that no Brazilian had mustered more shots on target than their captain was a damning statistic in what was a forgettable night for the hosts.
Mexico, meanwhile, showed greater willingness to shoot from range, and in the second half offered brief spells when they might have snatched a goal to shock the Castelao, with Hector Herrera a notable threat from range and then nearly tellingly in stoppage time, when he drew a fine block from Julio Cesar.
Indeed, it is the north Americans who will look back upon this match more ruefully, as they were the side who looked likelier to win.
Make no mistake - Brazil still have much to prove if they are going to win this World Cup.
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