Brazil v Mexico: Fans turn up the noise but host players still appear reluctant to join World Cup party
The Brazilian public were out on yellow-clad force to watch their team play in Fortaleza last night. Never mind those demonstrations that had soured the build up to the competition, never mind the 40,000 locals who had rioted about its presence this time last year, now it was here, this was a tournament they were going to celebrate.
Forget the cost, enjoy the party was the prevailing mood. What a shame their team could not give them something proper to cheer. Instead the yellow horde was witness to the most vivid evidence yet that their team are not going to be crowned world champions. No side that, when in desperate search for a goal, sends on Jô — yes the very false number nine who stank the place out at Manchester City and Everton — is making a compelling case for the title.
In a manner replicated across the country, this was a city in gridlock ahead of the game. Rush hour arrived three hours early, as workers headed home to the television, to the bar or to the fan park built on the beach, where 50,000 crammed on to the sand to watch. And those lucky enough to be in possession of a ticket made the most of it: 45 minutes before kick off the Arena Castelao Stadium was filled with astonishing noise and colour, with every man, woman and child in attendance patriotically festooned in the national colours.
There was, though, an edge to the mood of celebration; a sense of urgent expectancy was everywhere. As the players came out, before engaging in an emotionally-charged collective a cappella singing of the national anthem, up on the giant screen came a close-up of the captain Thiago Silva’s shirt. There were the five stars above the crest, indicating the number of Brazilian World Cup wins. How the country wants a sixth added this time round. After this match there appears to be little chance that there will be any frantic stitching going on at the replica shirt factory. Overtime will not be required in three weeks.
As you might expect from the collision of the two most demonstrative groups of supporters in world football, for the past two days ahead of this encounter there has been nobody shy or retiring on Fortaleza’s beachfront.
Whatever the collective noun is for a group of exhibitionists there has been a parade of them along the promenade, seeking out the roving TV crews to dance in front of cameras. They have all been here: Mexican wrestlers, blokes on 15 foot high tandem bicycles, a chap wearing not so much a sombrero as a Mexican festival on his head, his brim filled with a tableau of a mariachi band.
Pity whoever had the misfortune to sit behind him in the stadium. But compared to the colour of its build up, this was a monochrome encounter. In a World Cup that has been a long parade of footballing joy, the hosts appear reluctant to join in the festivities.
The Mexicans, relishing their position as Brazil’s bogey team, the stone in Brazilian boots, went in hard. Neymar in particular attracted an almost continual assault on his ankles. Every time he got the ball he was hacked down, to the furious displeasure of the home support.
The disappointing truth is this Brazil team could not rise above their opponents’ destructive intent. The side is so far exhibiting little of the panache and certainty of the Germans, the Dutch, the Argentines, even the French. Neymar and Dani Alves apart, they look workmanlike rather than inspired. Oscar was largely anonymous, Ramires restricted to defensive work, Fred little more than a parody of a centre forward. And how Tottenham’s Paulinho can be picked ahead of Manchester City’s brilliant Fernandinho is one of the mysteries of this tournament. The Mexican playmaker Andros Guardado shone as brightly as anyone in a gold shirt.
True, the visitors’ keeper Guillermo Ochoa made four exemplary saves, but Brazil showed little sustained threat. The man of the match Ochoa, incidentally, is a free agent, without a club: you imagine he returned to the dressing room after that performance to find a string of missed calls on his phone.
Inspired by their goalie, it was the Mexican fans singing at the end, cheering their hard-working team to the echo. For the Brazilians progress to the next stage has not been seriously undermined by this goalless stalemate. But make no mistake, they will need rapidly to improve if they are to meet their fans’ eager expectations. Right now they are in danger of being the poopers at their own party.