TORREON, Mexico -- At the peak of Mexico's effort on Tuesday against mighty Brazil, a lonely ball rested on the penalty spot, ready to be struck by forward Andres Guardado. A successful attempt would have given the home team an unlikely 2-0 advantage.
Certainly a 2-0 lead would have been somewhat unfair. Brazil had not played badly enough to be down two goals, nor had Mexico played well enough to have deserved that score line. But there are no lucky victories or unlucky losses, only wins and losses, and a victory by any means would have been welcomed.
Only moments before the ball was placed by the referee in the penalty area, Brazil had imploded. The penalty had been caused by a Dani Alves body check on Javier Hernandez that sent Chicharito sprawling. Soon after the penalty had been rightly called, almost the entire Brazilian team descended upon the referee. Though this was a meaningless friendly, Brazil panicked. It was Alves' second yellow of the night, which means Brazil was down to 10 men and ready to be put away.
In what was surely the key moment in the game, Guardado's penalty kick was blocked by keeper Jefferson, and eventually the sheer individual brilliance of Brazil -- a Ronaldinho free kick, a dazzling Marcelo run -- overcame everything else, such as the middling midfield play, the off-target passes and the sometimes slow-to-react defending. Mexico, with its own problems, couldn't complete several crosses in the attacking zone and misfired on the chances it did create. Though El Tri did play well on defense for most of the night, a few gaffes -- the foul by Sergio Perez on Neymar that gave Ronaldinho a free kick just outside the box, the sloppy defense by Edgar Andrade and Hector Moreno on Marcelo's goal -- meant that Brazil prevailed 2-1.
Mexico had done an outstanding job for most of the game in denying Brazil any tandem plays. Most of Brazil's chances were a result of individual brilliance: a Hulk sprint, a Ronaldinho dash toward the goal, Neymar's fancy dribbling, etc. The Brazilians played out of sync for most of the night. Yet they won. As a result, Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre's 14-game unbeaten streak was swept away. Mexico, for all its success this year, showed it is still a work in progress.
An important lesson was learned by Mexico's young players on Tuesday. When you have one of the most talented teams in the world reeling, you put them away or you risk losing. Nothing comes from playing hard for three-quarters of the game. You play hard for 90 minutes or else.
Here are match grades for each of Mexico's players: