By Andrew Downie
(Reuters) - Brazil failed to win for the first time in 11 games with their own lackluster midfield as much to blame for the 0-0 draw with Mexico as the inspired goalkeeping performance of Guillermo Ochoa.
Brazil started Tuesday's World Cup Group A match with a midfield trio of Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo, and Ramires, who started on the right in place of usual starter Hulk. Oscar played slightly further forward between the midfield and attack.
But Ramires was taken off at halftime and Oscar was also substituted before the end, while Paulinho looked out of sorts and was lucky to last the whole 90 minutes in Fortaleza.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari said he took Ramires off because "he's an impetuous player who had a yellow card and we didn't want him getting a red."
But he cannot have been happy with the way defensive midfielders Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho gave the Mexican attackers far too much space.
The Mexicans let loose with shots from outside the box on several occasions and while most of them flew over they were getting into dangerous positions.
"Brazil need to mark, cut down space and not even let Mexicans think they can take the game to Brazil," former Brazil player and TV Globo commentator Casagrande said midway through the second half.
"They're shooting from far out. They've been doing this since the start but they're doing it a lot more in the second half and they are getting a lot of space. The Mexicans are using the space well but Brazil aren't even getting in a position to shoot."
Scolari agreed and said he was also having trouble convincing his own players to follow suit and let fly with long-range efforts.
"Sometimes we passed instead of shooting," Scolari told reporters. "I tell them they sometimes need to have a go, they need to believe in their shooting."
With a solid looking defense and the attacking trio of Neymar, Fred and Hulk, who had been nursing a thigh problem, appearing set, Scolari's dilemma ahead of the final Group A match against Cameroon in Brasilia on Monday is who to play in midfield.
Paulinho looks jaded after a disappointing first season in England with Tottenham Hotspur and Luiz Gustavo also struggled to make an impact against the impressive Mexicans.
He may not want to risk Ramires and a second yellow that would lead to a one-match suspension but he will surely be tempted to give a run out to either Willian or Fernandinho, two players whose English Premier League form last season helped them force their way into the squad at the last minute.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Patrick Johnston)