Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil stuttered to a 0-0 draw with Mexico on Tuesday night in Brazil’s first failure to win their first two ties at a World Cup competition since 1978. With the pressure of playing at home immense, it is a result that will have done little to calm nerves within the ranks.
Brazil set out cautiously, using Ramires in midfield in place of the injured Hulk and Scolari’s decision to take a more pragmatic approach to opposing the CONCACAF nation translated into an uninspiring display.
It was not that Brazil did not have opportunities to win the encounter, with Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa outstanding in goal for the underdogs. But, for most of the encounter, Brazil were well below par and lacked any of the urgency expected of a side hoping to win the World Cup.
Mexico offered nothing that Brazil would not have been prepared for. It was the same side that beat Cameroon and, including the Olympics, there have been several clashes between the sides over the past two or three years involving many of those on show.
Yet, for all their knowledge of what to expect, Brazil too often seemed unprepared for Mexico’s approach. There were times in the game when it appeared that El Tri were more likely to go on and claim a win, while even when Brazil staged a late rally, Mexico largely coped with ease.
That Ramires was withdrawn at the break was an admission of defeat from Scolari. While many would have chosen to substitute Paulinho instead, the lack of creativity in midfield was an issue that needed to be addressed. Sadly, Bernard failed to provide a spark following his introduction.
However, despite Bernard’s failure to provide a catalyst for improvement, it was a necessary step. Too much of the burden to create was being placed solely upon the shoulders of Neymar, with Oscar largely ineffective and Fred failing to offer an outlet up front.
Neymar often steps up to the mark in the colours of his national side, but he should not be solely responsible for providing an attacking threat. For all his excellence, he cannot be a one-man team. With Scolari’s selection on this occasion, he too often appeared Brazil's only outlet. This time, he could not come up with the goods.
Scolari has largely remained faithful to a chosen group of 11 players over the past 12 months and has only made changes to his selection when, as on this occasion, injury has necessitated action. However, in recent games he has tinkered with the side's tactical setup as the pressure has begun to mount.
Caution is perhaps understandable given the weight of expectation on Brazil's shoulders. This young, dynamic side, though, have been at their best when allowed to play with freedom and Scolari must ensure that his eagerness to avoid defeat does not lead to his side drying up as an attacking force.