Dos a cero! USA is in the Cup
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The United States clinched a spot in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, beating Mexico by the iconic score of 2-0 before an electric sold-out crowd Tuesday in Columbus Crew Stadium.
In 2001, the U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus. In 2006 they did the same. Again in 2010. And the U.S. handed Mexico perhaps its most humiliating loss ever, knocking it out of the second round of the 2002 World Cup - again by a 2-0 final.
The score has become a rallying cry for American fans, who chanted a taunting "dos a cero" throughout the game.
So when Landon Donovan knocked home a Mix Diskerud cross in the 78th minute for the United States' second goal, the scoreline seemed almost kismet and the raucous crowd went hysterical.
Donovan, who was named man of the match, also assisted on USA's first goal, when Eddie Johnson leapt above the Mexican defense to head home Donovan's corner kick just after halftime. This 2-0 loss may end up being the cruelest one yet for Mexico, which is now in critical danger of missing out entirely on next summer's World Cup. The U.S. has its tickets punched with two qualifiers still to play, courtesy of the win and Honduras' 2-2 tie with Panama.
"This is a huge, huge evening. We're all extremely proud of this team," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It's a special moment when you qualify for a World Cup."
Mexico, which is now in a distant fourth in CONCACAF, with only the top three guaranteed a spot in the World Cup, will likely have to play an emergency playoff against New Zealand.
The game did not begin well for the Americans. Mexico dominated possession as the U.S. looked jumpy and disheveled without central midfielder Michael Bradley, out with a sprained ankle.
While the U.S. eventually settled down after the erratic beginning, Mexico had the best three chances of the first half. Each time, the U.S. was saved by a bit of brilliance from goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Howard's diving save in the 19th minute off a point-blank shot snuffed out Mexico's best chance of the game.
In the 44th minute, Giovanni Dos Santos, who was perhaps Mexico's best player in the first half, shot from about 10 yards, but again Howard was able to stop it, this time diving to his left and allowing no rebound.
Just before halftime, U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones gambled and lunged for a loose ball near midfield. He lost. Mexican midfielder Christian Gimenez beat him to the ball and Jones' absence sent him on an unimpeded run through the U.S. half.
Chasing from behind, American midfielder Alejandro Bedoya tackled Gimenez from behind, stopping the run, but giving Mexico a free kick and earning himself a yellow card in the process.
Carlos Salcido's chip from about 30 yards found the head of Mexican superstar Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, but again a diving Howard was able to push the glancing shot wide.
The United States' best chance in the first half came on a corner kick in the 32nd minute.
Eddie Johnson outjumped Mexico's defenders and headed the corner low and on goal, but Mexican goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona was able to collect the shot.
In the second half it was a different story.
Johnson's goal, in the 49th minute, was almost identical to his chance in the first half. But this time Johnson's powerful header left Corona with no chance and the crowd of 24,584 exploded.
Johnson took a hard fall 14 minutes later when he went up for a header and was undercut by a Mexican defender, landing on his back and head. He stayed down for a couple minutes, but stayed in the game.
Johnson, who looked like he was still feeling the effects of the fall, was subbed off in the 76th minute. It's technically true to say that he left to a standing ovation, but it's misleading.
The praise he got from the crowd was overwhelming, but the entire crowd was on its feet for the entire game.
"The crowd was unbelievable; amazing, amazing crowd," Klinsmann said.
Johnson's substitute, Mix Diskerud, made an immediate impact.
His low cross from just inside the right edge of the penalty box was touched ever so slightly by Clint Dempsey before Donovan hammered it into the top of the net from 4 yards out.
After several frenzied seconds of exultation, the crowd went straight to its "dos a cero" chant, which continued for most of the rest of the game.
Mexico, looking utterly defeated, mounted no serious threats the rest of the game. But the U.S. did.
In added time, after a nifty bit of footwork, Clint Dempsey beat his defender and was taken down in the penalty box, winning a penalty kick.
Dempsey took his own penalty, but sent it well wide of the goal.
It's always embarrassing to miss a penalty, but if ever there's been a time when it's not so bad to miss one - with the U.S. holding a comfortable and iconic lead and no time left - this was it.
Reach David Gutman at 304-348-5119 or email@example.com.