The Rio Report

Fortaleza opens arms but Brazil blow hot and cold against Mexico

The Rio Report

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In the lead-up to Brazil’s second Group A game, much was made of the welcome the Seleção would receive in the city of Fortaleza.

[MATCH REPORT: BRAZIL 0-0 MEXICO]

It was here, last summer, that the craze of the a cappella anthem first took root, players and fans alike ignoring the shortened, FIFA-approved version of the hino nacional to sing their hearts out before the Confederations Cup game against Mexico.

The gesture, which has since been repeated wholesale, was loaded with meaning. With FIFA corruption and World Cup spending among the myriad issues at stake in the protests that swept through Brazil, some feared that the national team – that most sacred of sacred cows – would find itself on the wrong side of a line in the sand.

The anthem instantly blew that notion away, (re)establishing the Seleção as a symbol of patriotism Brazilians feel even in spite of the country’s problems.

[NEYMAR REDUCED TO TEARS DURING EMOTIONAL NATIONAL ANTHEM]

So it was that the Castelão stadium came to be regarded as something of a Ground Zero for this new, united Brazil side. The players certainly seemed content to be returning to Fortaleza this week.

“We feel at home here,” admitted Thiago Silva. “We are always well received here in the north east.”

He wasn’t wrong: Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side were welcomed by a wall of colour and sound ahead of kick-off on Tuesday.

The atmosphere was not hindered by lively travelling support for Mexico, back for a second bite at the cherry and buoyant after starting their World Cup campaign with a quietly impressive win over Cameroon.

Yet if Brazil were hoping for a repeat of the comfortable victory they managed over these opponents in 2013, they were to be disappointed.

El Tri were in far less obliging mood this time out, chasing the hosts down and defending diligently. In a match of few chances, Miguel Herrera’s men arguably shaded things.

This was a ponderous performance from Brazil, one that raised far more questions than it answered. With Hulk sidelined by injury, Scolari opted to start Ramires rather than Willian on the right, employing the 4-1-4-1 he tested in friendlies against Australia and Portugal last year.

It didn’t work here. With Paulinho and Oscar not at the races, the Seleção lacked any semblance of fluency, forcing Neymar to go it alone and leaving Fred to feed on scraps.

The latter, so quiet against Croatia, was busy in the early stages but was soon inflicted by some reverse-Midas touch: nothing he touched went to a gold shirt.

Scolari threw on Bernard after the break – to little avail – before swapping Fred for Jô. That didn’t seem like a priority: with the midfield simply not functioning, Hernanes must have been shifting in his seat on the bench. Willian also made a late cameo but by then the die was cast.

Admittedly, Brazil found Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in fine form: he saved sensationally from Neymar in the first half and denied Thiago Silva with a fine reaction stop in the dying minutes. But those were isolated incidents rather than the product of any concerted pressure.

[OCHOA WOWS THE WORLD WITH AMAZING PERFORMANCE]

Scolari claimed after the game that Brazil had played better than they had against Croatia.

"All that was missing was a goal,” he said. “We had a few good chances and their goalkeeper was excellent. They only took long shots."

That struck most as fairly disingenuous, and you sense Felipão himself will be conducting a thorough post-mortem in the coming days.

Brazil are still likely to progress to the knockout stages, but the momentum he must have hoped to have achieved by this stage has yet to materialise.

Perhaps the most telling Litmus test for Brazil’s display was to be found in the stands.

While Brazil were riotously cheered onto the field, they left it in near silence. Fortaleza welcomed them back with open arms but the embrace left them cold on this occasion.

Jack Lang | Follow on Twitter

Jack is covering all things Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.

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