Brazil produced an unconvincing display at Estadio Castelao as Mexico held them to a goalless draw to leave the hosts needing to win their final group game to be sure of their place in the last 16.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side were again well short of their best in a cauldron of an atmosphere in Fortaleza. Neymar and captain Thiago Silva had the best of Brazil’s chances but were denied by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who was excellent throughout.
Mexico more than held their own, testing home keeper Julio Cesar through substitute Raul Jiminez and peppering his goal in a breathless second half.
The result leaves both sides with a chance of topping Group A. Brazil face Cameroon in Brasilia in their final match, while Mexico must beat Croatia to be sure of their place in the knockout stages.
This was a game in which the hosts’ alarming reliance on the brilliance of Neymar and Oscar was exposed, once again. Fred failed to appease his critics with a toothless display in attack, while Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo lacked imagination in a midfield battle they lost to Mexico.
It is not the first time Brazil have struggled against Mexico – no team has beaten them more often in the 21st century – and they were fortunate not to endure a repeat of their last home defeat, which took place here in Fortaleza in 2002.
Ochoa, who has left French club Ajaccio, was in exceptional form
Neymar, the tournament’s poster boy, was in the thick of the action from the off, dancing away from Mexico defenders, and drawing foul after foul in a breathless opening. As Brazil found a measure of control, Fred and then Paulinho found themselves in good positions but failed to capitalise.
And it was Neymar, who else, who had the best of the early chances, rising high at the back post to head Dani Alves’ cross powerfully towards goal. Ochoa saved Mexico, not for the last time, throwing himself to his right to tip the ball to safety.
He made another vital save with half-time approaching, spreading himself to smother a close-range stab by Paulinho, after Silva chested on a free-kick.
But Mexico gave every bit as good as they got.
Oribe Peralta led wave after wave of Mexico attacks, but it was Hector Herrera and Vazquez who went closest before the interval with piercing shots from distance, one of which Cesar tipped over, while the other whistled just wide.
Though Brazil remained short of their fluent best, the introduction of Bernard for Ramires at half-time added zip to their attack. Within a minute, the diminutive winger was racing onto an Alves pass and sending the ball across goal, where Mexico defender Francisco Rodriguez prevented Neymar heading home with a vital intervention.
Neymar curled a free-kick wide and went closer still as he chested down Bernard’s cross and drilled a fierce low shot at goal, only for Ochoa to deny him once more.
Former Manchester City striker Jo, on as a substitute, dragged a shot wide as Brazil became increasingly desperate for a goal. Mexico, however, had other ideas.
Andres Guardado fizzed a shot just over Cesar’s crossbar, while the Brazil goalkeeper had to react quickly to turn away a thunderous low shot from substitute Jiminez.
Mexico finished the game with purpose and belief. Brazil must do better.