Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced a heroic performance in a 0-0 draw with Brazil and his Russian counterpart Igor Akinfeev was the villain in a 1-1 draw with South Korea as the World Cup produced more drama on Tuesday.
While Ochoa kept Brazil at bay, the hapless Akinfeev was left to bury his head in his hands after he allowed Lee Keun-ho’s straightforward shot from 25m to slip through his grasp.
Algeria ended their 28-year wait for a World Cup goal when they took a shock lead against Belgium although it was not enough as the highly rated Europeans hit back to win 2-1 in the day’s other match.
Ochoa produced four world class saves to deny Paulinho, Neymar (twice) and Thiago Silva when they seemed certain to score in an intense, end-to-end match in tropical Fortaleza, which left both teams with four points from two games in Group A.
Silva thought he had won the game in the closing minutes with a powerful header only to see his effort parried at point blank range by the Mexican keeper.
‘Best match of my life’
Despite the scoreline, the match was anything but dull and the Mexicans enjoyed long periods of possession, bravely taking the game to the hosts in the second half.
“I believe this was the best match of my life because this was a World Cup game and this is very important,” said Ochoa.
“I don’t know whether I can think of another goalkeeper in memory … someone who has done what Memo [Ochoa] did today,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera told a news conference.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari also praised Ochoa, describing his performance as spectacular, and could not resist pointing out that this time, unlike the controversial 3-1 win over Croatia, his side had a late penalty appeal turned down.
“There was no penalty in favour of Brazil,” said Big Phil, shrugging his shoulders.
Cameroon and Croatia, the other teams in the group, who are yet to get off the mark, meet in Manaus on Wednesday.
In the Group H clash in Cuiaba, Akinfeev’s blushes on 68 minutes were spared when veteran Alexander Kerzhakov pounced to equalise for Russia after more scrappy goalkeeping by Jung Sung-ryong six minutes later.
Much-fancied Belgium were made to work hard for a 2-1 win over Algeria in Belo Horizonte after the North Africans took a shock lead with a Sofiane Feghouli penalty in the 25th minute.
It was Algeria’s first goal at the tournament since Djamel Zidane scored against Northern Ireland in a 1-1 draw in 1986.
Algeria played two more games at that tournament and three at the 2010 World Cup without scoring.
The Desert Foxes kept the lead until the last 20 minutes when goals from substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens turned the game around, much to the anger of Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
“It’s a major disappointment,” he said. “I have a number of players that are rather limited, they’re young, they’re not that experienced, they can’t play 90 minutes … Each Algerian player needs to improve his physical condition by 30% to 50%. The Belgian players are in much better shape.”
‘A very sad moment’
Portugal’s troubles continued after their 4-0 thrashing by Germany on Monday when left back Fabio Coentrao was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a thigh muscle injury.
“It’s a very sad moment for me, and one that I want to forget as quickly as possible,” he told the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) website.
Defending champions Spain, who made an even worse start than Portugal when they were thrashed 5-1 by the Netherlands in their opening match, face Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
Netherlands face Australia in Porto Alegre. “There was no euphoria in the team. We have played Total Football. Nothing has changed in that respect. We are applying the Dutch principles,” said flamboyant coach Louis van Gaal.