I've got three things to say about this one. Bet you didn't guess that?
But first, a little science from everybody's buddy Paul Carr, who is slaving away down in Rio with a caipirinha in one hand and a TI-84 in the other:
Brazil had been 17-0-0 at the #WorldCup vs non-UEFA/CONMEBOL teams, outscoring them 50-5.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 17, 2014
This was a landmark result for Mexico and CONCACAF, truly a 0-0 draw against the Brazilian giants that feels very much like a win. Let's start there:
1. This has become CONCACAF's tournament
CONCACAF teams – Mexico, the US, Costa Rica and Honduras – have now played five times in the 2014 World Cup. They are a combined 3-1-1 with a +1 goal differential. One of the wins (US 2-1 Ghana) was over a 2010 quarterfinalist; another (Costa Rica 3-1 Uruguay) over a 2010 semifinalist; the third (Mexico 1-0 Cameroon) over a team that always qualifies, but never makes the knockout rounds. Wins like that count just as much, folks.
Then there's Tuesday's draw vs. the hosts for Mexico. And finally we have Honduras's 3-0 drubbing at the hands of France – a game that was scoreless until Wilson Palacios conceded a penalty while drawing a red card.
CONCACAF continues to exceed expectations at World Cup. Clear cut, 3rd best confederation in Brazil. Closing gap on big 2. #BRAvsMEX— Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) June 17, 2014
Want more CONCACAF? How about this: the best Dutch central midfielder in their 5-1 demolition of Spain was Jonathan de Guzman, who grew up in Toronto and seriously weighed playing for the country of his birth before opting for die Oranje (to my Canadian readers: I am quite sorry to bring that up, because I know it's a wound. Feel free to tweet GIFs of Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic at me for the rest of the day).
Then there was Raheem Sterling, the Jamaica-born English playmaker. His threaded through-ball doesn't count as an assist in the World Cup, but we'd give it in MLS because secondary assists are awesome. As was he.
Asmir Begovic once played for Canadian youth national teams before switching allegiances to Bosnia & Herzegovina (sorry again, Canucks). He started in the 2-1 loss to Argentina, and put in a damn good performance. So did Vedad Ibisevic, who moved from his war-torn homeland to the heartland of America in the late 1990s, becoming a star on the St. Louis soccer scene all the way up through college.
Last year he scored the goal that put his nation into the World Cup. Last weekend, he scored his nation's first-ever World Cup goal.
There are also plenty of players from CONCACAF leagues getting it done – Júlio César in net for Brazil, Tim Cahill heading home a goal for Australia, and Enner Valencia of Ecuador – who plays in Liga MX – doing the same.
2. And this was Memo Ochoa's day
There's no real analogy for Guillermo Ochoa in the US player pool. He's looked like the best at his position (goalkeeper) for a long time for Mexico, but for one reason and then another he'd lose form, or lose the confidence of his manager, or a small injury would pop up, and like that he'd fall down the pecking order for El Tri.
Suffice it to say he will be getting the benefit of the doubt from "Piojo" Herrera and whoever comes next on the sideline for the national team. He was huge, producing a raft of top-quality saves from minutes 1 through 90, and coming off his line with a measured aggression that's often eluded him. It was the best performance of any 'keeper at this World Cup so far, and has an argument for best performance by any player so far, at any position.
Ochoa, today. pic.twitter.com/tcbFG1XDxL— Shawn Francis (@TheOffsideRules) June 17, 2014
This save, on Neymar, will likely not be topped:
Let's take it from another angle:
You can see a little bit better in that second one that Ochoa actually had to reach backwards and not just parry the ball, but cradle it and guide it off to the side – while at full extension. ESPN later showed a cut-away of the goalline tech, and the ball was three-fourths of the way over the line when Ochoa saved it.
He made 0-0 beautiful.
3. Brazil are flawed favorites
Mexico gave a Seleção a ton of problems for much of the second half with the way their central defenders – they played with three of them in a 5-3-2 – would step into the play aggressively in attack, usually with the ball on their foot and sometimes without. It's a throwback look, something out of the 1970s and '80s when sweepers ruled the pitch.
Back then, though, only the sweeper would step into the play. The two true central defenders just held their ground, come hell or high water.
This Mexico is different, and this 5-3-2 plays different. You were as likely to see Héctor Moreno galloping up the pitch as you were to see Rafa Márquez. "Maza" Rodríguez plays it a bit safer, but still made himself available higher up the pitch than you would expect.
Hard not to like a team that is mins from getting a point against WC favorites and its CBs still charge forward.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) June 17, 2014
Combine that with the marauding Mexican wingbacks, and it was a recipe for Brazilian confusion. As a result they had a lot of trouble turning Mexico over in good transition areas, instead having to backpedal all the way to the 18 and do a lot of clean-up work there (which they did very well).
Part of the reason Brazil were so effective defending deep is because El Tri lack a true target forward, a hold-up guy who can occupy defenders and keep them out of lanes. Problem for Brazil is that they really do lack one of those themselves.
Fred really weighs this Brazilian team down. Their lack of a good #9 is evident. #BRAvMEX— herculez gomez (@herculezg) June 17, 2014
There is no Serginho on this team (please read that link – knowing your soccer history matters), no Stephan Guivarc'h either. Fred is too slow of thought and foot, while Jô, who came on for him, operates only in the channels.
That just so happens to be where Neymar and Oscar – both unusually quiet in this one – do their best work. They were neutralized by Mexico's smart gameplan and heroic defense on the day, but they were limited by the play of their own forwards.
I still expect to see Brazil march all the way to the final, of course. "Flawed favorites" still means they're favorites, and Mexico are something of a bogey-team for the hosts.
But there's a bit of a blueprint now. One that was drawn up – I'm gonna say it again – in CONCACAF.