FORTALEZA, Brazil — He was called a hero and a savior by his Mexican teammates. His Brazilian opponents said he produced miracles.
There is no doubt that Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was the one responsible for spoiling Brazil’s hopes of another World Cup victory at its home tournament.
Ochoa made a series of outstanding saves to help his side hold Brazil to a thrilling 0-0 draw on Tuesday.
The result left both teams with four points each after two games in Group A, but Brazil is ahead on goal difference going into their decisive final matches. Croatia and Cameroon meet on Wednesday for their second games after both opened with defeats.
“We can’t avoid talking about their goalkeeper,” Brazil striker Fred said. “He came up with at least four miracles.”
Ochoa’s first remarkable save prevented Neymar from scoring in the 26th minute. The Brazil striker’s powerful header looked set to fly just inside the post when the goalkeeper dived to his right to push the ball wide.
Ochoa also made three other difficult saves to keep the hosts from breaking the deadlock — a shot by Paulinho in the 44th, a second-half effort by Neymar from inside the area and a close-range header by Thiago Silva in the 86th minute which produced a remarkable block by the Mexico goalkeeper.
“It was the match of my life,” said Ochoa, who was visibly moved after the match. “To do it in a World Cup, in front of all the fans, it’s incredible.”
Mexico captain Rafael Marquez said Ochoa was the “savior” and coach Miguel Herrera called him the “hero” of the match.
“He did what we expected him to do, he came up with extraordinary saves,” Herrera said. “I can’t remember another Mexican goalkeeper doing such a great job in the World Cup.”
A win by either team would have guaranteed a spot in the next round if Cameroon and Croatia were to draw in the jungle city of Manaus.
“In the end, the 0-0 mirrors what happened, it was a very hard-fought match,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “The draw wasn’t a good result because a victory would have already allowed us to advance, but we need to be able to respect our opponent, which played very well.”
Herrera was pleased with his side’s performance.
“We had a great match against a great rival playing in front of its fans, in its stadium, in its country,” he said. “We showed that we can play at the same level as any other team.”
Brazil had won all three previous World Cup matches between the teams without conceding a goal, but the Latin American rivals hadn’t met in the sport’s showcase tournament since 1962.
“We already expected a match this difficult,” Fred said. “We tried to score until the end but it wasn’t possible. We’ll have to wait until the next match to try to secure a spot in the next round.”
It was an evenly balanced game at the Arena Castelao, with Mexico not allowing Brazil to take control. El Tri didn’t play defensively and created chances throughout the match, especially with long-range shots by midfielders Hector Herrera and Jose Vazquez.
Brazil, playing without striker Hulk, turned up the pressure in the second half, but there was no getting past Ochoa.
The 28-year-old goalkeeper denied Paulinho just before halftime, blocking the midfielder’s shot after a loose ball inside the area, and then got his body in the way of Neymar’s drive inside the box. In the 86th, he was there on cue to block Silva’s powerful header from point-blank range.
“The only thing missing was the goal,” Scolari said. “We need to give credit to their goalkeeper. He had a great day and that kept us from winning the match. He made some spectacular saves, was the best player of the match.”
Fans wearing Brazil’s green and yellow colors were the majority as expected, but Mexicans took over large seating sections of the stadium and at times were louder than the local fans. Among those in the crowd of 60,342 was NBA star Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Mexico had won six of the last 10 matches, including in the final of the 2012 London Olympics, keeping the Brazilians from earning their first gold medal in football. In their latest match, Brazil won 2-0 in last year’s Confederations Cup, also in Fortaleza and also in the second match of the group stage.
RUSSIA 1 SOUTH KOREA 1
CUIABA, Brazil — Alexander Kerzhakov scored with one of his first touches after coming on as a substitute to earn Russia a 1-1 draw with South Korea on Tuesday in a World Cup match marked by the first big goalkeeping error of the tournament.
Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev spilled Lee Keun-ho’s speculative long-range shot into his own net to gift South Korea a 68th-minute lead at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba in Group H.
But Kerzhakov bailed his teammate out, turning in a shot from close range in the 74th — three minutes after coming on as a substitute — to rescue a point for Russia in a poor-quality match.
Akinfeev stayed on the ground inside his own net, head in his hands, after making his blunder, clearly embarrassed after dropping what was a routine save from a shot from about 30 yards. He was consoled by a couple of teammates, who patted him on the back, but could soon join in the celebrations when Kerzhakov equalized soon after.
The explosive six-minute spell that featured both goals was not in keeping with the rest of a fairly mundane game characterized by slow build-up play, poor passing and wayward finishing.
BELGIUM 2 ALGERIA 1
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Belgium opened its World Cup campaign with a 2-1 comeback win over Algeria on Tuesday, relying on second-half goals from two substitutes after a tense start in Group H.
Algeria opened the scoring with a penalty in the 25th minute and the surprising lead stood for 45 minutes until Marouane Fellaini’s strong glancing header, with his back to goal, from a Kevin De Bruyne cross.
Fellaini, who many had considered would start the match, had only come onto the pitch five minutes earlier and was coach Marc Wilmots’ final substitution.
Dries Mertens’ right-foot strike beat Algeria’s goalkeeper in the 80th after Eden Hazard saw him free on the right and set him up for the decider. Mertens, who went on at the start of the second half, sent his shot high in the net outside of Rais Mbolhi’s reach.
“We knew it would be tough, that there would be no space,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. “We made one error and we paid for it. The bench made the difference. We showed mental strength and we came back.”