Brazil, Belgium have tough day at office

JOHN LEICESTER, AP Sports Writer
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Brazil's Neymar, left, and Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez challenge for the ball during the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Tuesday, June 17, 2014.  (AP Photo/Francois Xavier Marit, pool)

Brazil’s Neymar, left, and Mexico’s Francisco Rodriguez challenge for the ball during the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Xavier Marit, pool)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil and Belgium proved the old adage that there are no easy games at the World Cup.

Brazil failed to beat Mexico for the first time at a World Cup, held to a 0-0 draw in Fortaleza Tuesday in their second game in Group A. In Belo Horizonte, Belgium — a popular pick to contend for the title — struggled for much of the game before beating Algeria 2-1.

The evening game Tuesday sees the only teams yet to play in this World Cup — Russia and South Korea — take each other on in Group H in Cuiaba.

With Neymar rampant through the middle, Marcelo ever-willing to go forward and Oscar supplying passes and inventiveness, Brazil should have been scoring almost at will. Time and again, Brazil’s yellow shirts swarmed over Mexico’s penalty box.

But shots and passes went awry, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made outstanding saves and Brazil is clearly missing a top-notch center-forward. Mistiming his run, Fred had a first-half effort disallowed for offside, didn’t impact heavily on the game and was substituted in the second half.

Brazil scored 11 goals without reply in its three previous World Cup encounters with Mexico. This was the second scoreless draw at this tournament where goals have rained in.

Lacking penetration and trailing 1-0 from a penalty gifted by Jan Vertonghen, Belgium looked anything but frightening in a first half where Algeria was more watchable than its unambitious and brief appearance in 2010. It moved and kept the ball well and looked to hit Belgium on the counterattack.

Credit Belgium coach Marc Wilmots for turning things around. His inspired second-half substitutions shunted aside the bus — two banks of four players — that Algeria parked in defense.

Dries Mertens and Divock Origi injected much-needed pace and ideas. Wilmots’ last roll of the dice, Marouane Fellaini, played better than for Manchester United this season, staying forward and planting himself in the Algerian box to weigh on its defense.

He headed in Kevin De Bruyne’s fizzing cross and equalized in the 70th minute. Mertens curled in the winner 10 minutes later, haring down the right to meet Eden Hazard’s raking pass.

That counterattack, the speed and intent of it, was Belgium at its best.

The low point was Vertonghen needlessly hauling down Sofiane Feghouli, who then coolly slotted in the penalty. That snapped Algeria’s scoreless streak at World Cups stretching back through a record-tying five matches and 505 minutes, just 12 minutes short of the longest World Cup goal drought — 517 minutes for Bolivia.

“We made one error and we paid for it. The bench made the difference. We showed mental strength and we came back,” Wilmots said.

Ochoa’s seven saves were the most by any goalie so far. He got an outstretched hand to Neymar’s superb first-half header. Cameras trained on Ochoa’s goal showed he clearing the ball off his line. After another spectacular two-handed reflex save in the second half, batting away Thiago Silva’s header, Ochoa high-fived a team-mate.

Despite letting in two, Rais Mbolhi was also impressive for Algeria, making six saves that put him just behind Ochoa.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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