Brazil 0 Mexico 0 match report
Neymar's blonde ambition was no match for Guillermo Ochoa as the Mexico goalkeeper frustrated the hosts and their talisman in a fiercely contested Group A match, which could easily have delivered only Brazil's second group stage defeat in 44 years.
With his hair freshly dyed for the occasion in Fortaleza, Neymar seemed hell bent on smoothing the Selecao's route to the second round, but too few of the support task were in the same mood, while Mexico's custodian was determined to frustrate any that tried.
The last of Ochoa's saves was from Brazil captain Thiago Silva, who met Neymar's free-kick perfectly but, from six yards out, needed to put it either side of the keeper, who plays in France with Ajaccio. Marcelo had a penalty shout dismissed correctly during a frenetic finish before Andres Guardado skimmed the roof of the Brazilian net and Mexico substitute Raul Jimenez drew a fine save from Julio Cesar.
Tied at the top of the group with four points each, Brazil and Mexico will go into their final matches against Cameroon and Croatia respectively knowing only a win will guarantee them safe passage.
It was inside this ground, against this opposition, last year that the singing of the second verse of "Hino Nacional Brasileiro" became a sensation and once more the Fortaleza crowd delivered a spine-tingling rendition of the Brazil national anthem after the Fifa-approved backing track went silent.
Neymar looked genuinely moved at the end, dropping to his knee and taking a moment to absorb the enormity of the occasion, but any fears that it might overwhelm Brazil's talisman were soon put to rest. After a sluggish beginning for the hosts, the No 10 slowly brought Brazil into the game.
Bolstered by a convincing opening round win over Cameroon, the Mexico coach Miguel Herrera spoke on Monday about the importance of trying to cow the massive home support with a frenetic start, as Croatia did in Sao Paulo on the opening day of the tournament. It worked for a time but Brazil could have been in front when Oscar's 11th-minute cross was missed from five yards by Fred - the linesman's flag saving his blushes.
Then Neymar took control, his through ball perfectly weighted for Fred, whose shot was blocked by Hector Moreno before Marcelo's cross deflected off Paulinho for a goal-kick. Not always renowned for his defending, Marcelo stood up well as Oribe Peralta, Mexico's goalscorer against Cameroon, ran powerfully at him down the right channel.
Mexico came back into the game after a quiet spell with Hector Herrera forcing Cesar into making a magnificent save and the ball went out for what should have been a corner. The Brazil keeper's reactions were so quick, however, that neither the linesman or referee saw him parry the ball behind and a goal-kick was erroneously awarded.
Both sides had been on opposing ends of questionable refereeing decisions in their opening matches, with Mexico having two goals wrongly disallowed for offside against Cameroon and Brazil benefitting from some generous officiating in their 3-1 win over Croatia. However, there were no indications that the playing field for both sides was anything less than level here, even if Dani Alves was lucky to avoid a booking for a late challenge on Guardado.
The Barcelona full-back is happier going forward and it was his cross that Neymar jumped to meet, only for Ochoa to dive brilliantly to his right to save. Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, who stands nine centimetres taller than Neymar, was comfortably outjumped by the Brazilian.
Fred's lack of a killer finish and habit of straying offside notwithstanding, going forward Brazil looked slick but at the back they were less than convincing and on the sidelines coach Luiz Felipe Scolari seemed to be getting increasingly hot under the collar of his white polo neck.
The Mexico midfielder Jose Vasquez had Cesar scampering across goal when he was allowed to shoot from distance, but it was Ochoa who was once more called into action before half-time. The Mexican keeper made a superb point-black save after a Brazil free-kick pinballed its way to the feet of Ramires, who was selected ahead of his Chelsea team-mate Willian in place of the injured Hulk, but was replaced himself at half-time by Bernard.
The Shakhtar Donetsk man nearly made an immediate impact for Brazil after the break as he forced Francisco Rodriguez to head his raking cross clear for a corner.
Mexico were not to be outdone however and, with their fans now in much better voice than the more plentiful hosts, Herrera's men advanced and once more Vasquez threatened the goal with a shot from distance and Giovani dos Santos scuffed a shot at Cesar.
Scolari was once more drawn to the edge of his technical area when, seconds later, Herrera smacked a shot just over the crossbar. The hosts were on the ropes.
Neymar lifted the siege, drawing a foul from his marker and taking the resulting 30-yard free kick himself. A little to the left of goal, his effort flew just wide of Ochoa's despairing grasp, and the post. But Brazil were second to the ball all over the pitch, particularly in the middle, where Herrera, Vasquez and Guardado were combining industry with guile. Brazil's attack appeared to have one, peroxide blonde, outlet.
It was no surprise to see Fred replaced by Jo in the 68th minute. Seconds later Brazil had their best chance of the second half as Ochoa once more saved superbly from Neymar at the far post.
Manchester United's Javier Hernandez was given 17 minutes to find a winner for Mexico and quickly forced David Luiz into a smart piece of defending. Minutes later Luiz's defensive partner Thiago Silva was booked for an ugly hack on the striker on the edge of the penalty area.
Brazil's attacking substitutions almost combined for the winner, Bernard sliding a pass through for Jo, but the striker dragged his shot wide. It was one of those nights for the hosts, who must have suspected there would be speed bumps this month. They cannot afford to hit another one.