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Brazil’s defender Dani Alves (left), vies with Mexico’s defender Andres Guardado (right), during a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 17. (AFP)
Mexico stall Brazil WC charge Ochoa thwarts hosts

FORTALEZA, Brazil, June 17, (Agencies): Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa sensationally kept Brazil at bay to earn Mexico a 0-0 in World Cup Group A in Fortaleza on Tuesday. Brazil and Barcelona star Neymar twice came closest to breaking the deadlock in each half but both times was thwarted by point blank saves by man-of-the-match Ochoa. he result pushed both sides a point closer to the last 16 as they now have a four-point lead over fellow Group A rivals Cameroon and Croatia, who meet in Manuas on Wednesday. Mexico largely matched Brazil throughout a pulsating match, although the hosts created the more clear-cut openings. Neymar had the first clear sight of goal on 26 minutes with a header from Dani Alves’s pinpoint cross but Ochoa plunged to his right to save one-handed.

A minute from the break a clever chest control by centre-back Thiago Silva teed up Paulinho, but Ochoa rushed out to block his close range effort. Ochoa was the hero again on 69 minutes after Neymar controlled a pass from Bernard on his chest and lashed in a near post shot that the goalkeeper scrambled behind. Five minutes from the end, Ochoa showed stunning reflexes to parry Thiago Silva’s bullet header from just five yards out. Jose Vazquez, Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado came close for Mexico with thunderous strikes that just missed the target. But their closest effort came from Raul Jimenez in the last minute as Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar just pushed his goalbound shot to safety.

Meanwhile, much-fancied Belgium fought back from a goal down to score twice in the final 20 minutes and earn a hard-fought 2-1 victory over gutsy Algeria in their World Cup Group H opener on Tuesday. Goals from substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens turned the game around after Algeria playmaker Sofiane Feghouli had given them a 25th minute lead with a penalty at the Mineirao stadium. “It was a tough match but we were patient throughout and at the end we were rewarded,” said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots. Golascorer Mertens added: “I had my family in the stands. It was great to score for them and for the whole of Belgium. “We got the three points and it is important to start with a victory. Now we have to go and win the second match as well.”

Belgium, back at the World Cup after a 12-year absence, enjoyed the majority of possession but struggled to break down a disciplined two-line Algerian defence which kept Eden Hazard and forward Romelu Lukaku well in check. The Algerians, with El Arabi Soudani surprisingly in the starting lineup for key forward Islam Slimani, posed little threat up front with winger Riyad Mahrez firing well wide in their only foray in the Belgian box early in the game. They were far more successful the second time they ventured forward when left back Jan Vertonghen brought down Feghouli after a fine cross from Faouzi Ghoulam.

Feghouli calmly fired past keeper Thibaut Courtois to end his country’s 28-year wait for a World Cup goal and send the green-white-clad Algerian fans delirious. Belgium’s Axel Witsel tried his luck with a couple of long-range shots but the Red Devils looked nothing like the menacing team that qualified unbeaten for the tournament. Coach Marc Wilmots, the last Belgium player to score in a World Cup before Tuesday, took off lacklustre Lukaku early in the second half, bringing on teenager Divock Origi in the hope of breathing new life into his team.

It almost paid off instantly when the 19-year-old raced clear but failed to beat keeper Rais Mbohli with Algeria firmly on the backfoot. It was Wilmots’ other substitute, Fellaini, who delivered when he rose high to meet a Kevin De Bruyne cross and drill his header off the bar and into goal on 70 minutes. The Desert Foxes, who had hardly put a foot wrong in defence, were caught napping 10 minutes later when Hazard raced down the left wing, and cut back perfectly for subsititute Mertens to fire in for the win. “It’s a major disappointment,” said Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic. “We are sorry. I deeply regret the result. We missed a great opportunity here. But in the second half it was a bit tough. We left too much space to the Belgian team and the two goals scored against us were to be expected.”

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