Brazil Become Unstuck in Midfield and Attack in Mexico World Cup Clash

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportJune 18, 2014

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 17:  Fred of Brazil reacts during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Mexico at Castelao on June 17, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

The setting was the same, the sides the same, the outcome entirely different. For the second time in the space of 12 months, Brazil and Mexico locked horns at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza.

Last year, a comfortable 2-0 victory set the tone for Brazil's Confederations Cup success, whilst simultaneously confirming to coach Luiz Felipe Scolari his ideal cast and strongest shape, set in stone ever since.

Fast forward to 2014 and Brazil saw themselves frustrated by the heroics of Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexico goal on a disappointing afternoon. The game ended goalless thanks to three wonderful saves by the 28-year-old stopper, only the second 0-0 of the tournament to date.

Admittedly, Brazil should not have to play many more sides during this World Cup as content to sit behind the ball as Mexico were yesterday. Set up in two lines of four, time and space were precious commodities for the hosts.

How Brazil started the match against Mexico.
How Brazil started the match against Mexico.BR Tools

During the latter stages of the World Cup, should Brazil get there of course, they will play against teams confident enough to take the game to any opponent. But it should be a worry to Scolari that for the second game in a row there were serious problems breaking down stubborn resistance.

Paulinho in particular was disappointing. Lethargic and off the pace, the Tottenham midfielder was anonymous for large parts of the contest.

The best chance of the first half fell to the 25-year-old, who could not react fast enough to poke the ball home before Ochoa was off his line like a panther to smother the danger. In addition, he failed to strike a chord with Ramires, who was removed at the interval after picking up a yellow card late in the first half.

Hulk, so often the scapegoat in the eyes of supporters, was missing with a thigh complaint. On this evidence, folk will not be so quick to groan the next time the Zenit forward is amongst the starters.

In Brazil's final group game against Cameroon on Monday, Scolari would do well to give him an opportunity as the target man, should he be fit enough to return. Just as in the Confederations Cup, No. 9 Fred has drawn a blank in the opening two games of the competition.

How Brazil finished the match against Mexico.
How Brazil finished the match against Mexico.BR Tools

But this is a different Fred to that of 2013. Last year, the Fluminense hitman was in the form of his international career as he strived to assert himself as Brazil's spearhead.

Now, after suffering another long-term injury, he looks less like the hungry poacher that made him Scolari's chosen one. He was again frustrated by a rugged Mexican back line on an afternoon where the linesmen could be seen to be making more imaginative runs than the man charged with leading the Selecao attack from the front.

Fred's innocuousness piles all the more pressure on Neymar's slim shoulders. With Oscar also misfiring from his position wide on the right, it was left to the Barcelona starlet to try to pull his team forward.

Much as Arjen Robben did for Holland against Spain, Neymar occupied a roaming space behind a central striker attempting to probe for open spaces between the Mexican lines.

When Fred is off form, the goalscoring burden rests almost entirely on Neymar's shoulders.
When Fred is off form, the goalscoring burden rests almost entirely on Neymar's shoulders.Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

In the second half, when Bernard came on for Ramires, he moved out left, with the Shakhtar man occupying the right wing and Oscar moving infield, but continued to cut in and sniff out danger.

Twice Neymar forced Ochoa into scrambling action and at the death put the ball on Thiago Silva's forehead, only for the defender to head straight at the man between the Mexico sticks.

The top scorer for Brazil since Scolari returned to the helm, this was far from vintage Neymar, but the apathy of those around him meant he took on too great a mantle. Brazil now go into their final group game against Cameroon on Monday knowing they must take something from the game to ensure progress.

Neymar and Oscar took on Croatia last Thursday. The former was forced to go it alone yesterday.

The streamlined path from midfield to attack has become blocked. If the side are to find fluidity for the latter stages of a must-win World Cup, Scolari must find answers against Cameroon in a game that can not, at any cost, be taken for granted.