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SOCCER

U.S. defeats Honduras, 3-2, clinches World Cup spot

Conor Casey scores two goals and Landon Donovan scores one to help Americans qualify for the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

October 11, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

Conor Casey scored two second-half goals Saturday night and Landon Donovan added a third as the United States rallied to defeat Honduras, 3-2, to earn a place in soccer's 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Casey can pack his bag right now. The 28-year-old from Dover, N.H., almost certainly will be going along.

At the World Cup, Casey can rub shoulders with players from the likes of defending world champion Italy and former champion Germany, not to mention Chile, Denmark, the Ivory Coast and Serbia.

Each of those countries made it to the World Cup on an incident-packed day of qualifying play.

For the U.S., it was a close-run thing. Had Carlos Pavon, Donovan's former Galaxy teammate, not sent a penalty kick soaring over the crossbar with three minutes to play, Honduras might have earned a 3-3 tie.

As it was, the boisterous sellout crowd at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula left in a subdued mood. Honduras had been 8-0-0 at home in its effort to reach South Africa before the Americans rolled into town.

Julio Deleon put Honduras on the path to victory with a goal just after halftime, but Casey's first two goals in international play, both in a span of eight minutes, and Donovan's goal four minutes later had Honduras reeling.

Deleon cut the deficit to one goal with his second goal of the game, but the U.S. held on for the victory.

"This isn't an easy place to play," Donovan said. "No one else has won here in qualifying and we just did."

With Mexico and the U.S. assured of a trip to South Africa, it will be left to Honduras and Costa Rica to determine which of them earns the third direct place and which has to go into a playoff with the fifth-place South American finisher.

Costa Rica, which defeated Trinidad and Tobago, 4-0, plays the U.S. on Wednesday in what could be an American celebration at RFK Stadium in Washington. Honduras faces a tricky game at El Salvador the same day.

Saturday's triumph means the U.S. has qualified for six consecutive World Cup tournaments, including one as host in 1994, after a barren spell between 1950 and 1990.

Mexico, too, can enjoy its Wednesday finale in Port of Spain, Trinidad, after brushing aside El Salvador, 4-1, in Mexico City. Judging by Saturday's dominating performance, Mexico might make some noise in South Africa, as might the U.S.

Coach Javier Aguirre's team was in rare form at packed Estadio Azteca. After a swarm of bees had stopped the game for nine minutes shortly after it started, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and company went to work.

An own goal by El Salvador's Marvin Gonzalez, whose attempted clearance bounced off Blanco and into the Salvadoran net, plus later goals by Blanco, Francisco "Paco" Palencia and Carlos Vela made it a rout.

A superb goal on a free kick by Julio Martinez averted a shutout for El Salvador, which was eliminated by the loss.

Other games Saturday produced last-gasp goals that changed the outcome.

In Dublin, host Ireland was only moments from a memorable victory over world champion Italy after Sean St. Ledger had given it a 2-1 lead with three minutes left. But Alberto Gilardino's 90th-minute goal salvaged a 2-2 tie and that was enough to get Italy to the World Cup.

"It would have been absurd to lose considering the way we played," Italy Coach Marcello Lippi said.

In Buenos Aires, Diego Maradona's Argentina was staring disaster in the face after Hernan Rengifo's 90th-minute goal for Peru had tied the score, 1-1. But Martin Palermo earned the two-time World Cup winners a reprieve by scoring three minutes into injury time for a 2-1 victory.

In Quito, Ecuador, another two-time world champion, Uruguay, also indulged in some very late heroics as it used a Diego Forlan penalty kick four minutes into injury time for a 2-1 victory and possibly destroy Ecuador's chances of making it to South Africa.

Ecuador's only hope now is to win its final game, at Chile, and hope that the game Wednesday between Argentina and host Uruguay at Montevideo produces a winner.

Barring an Ecuador win, the latter game will decide which team, Argentina or Uruguay, qualifies and which goes into a playoff against Honduras or Costa Rica.

Chile has no such worries. It secured its first World Cup place since 1998 by rolling over Colombia, 4-2, in Medellin, Colombia.

In addition to Italy, three other European teams booked their South Africa tickets Saturday.

In Moscow, Miroslav Klose's 50th goal for Germany produced a 1-0 victory over Russia and consigned the Russians to the November playoff series between Europe's eight best second-place teams.

In Copenhagen, Denmark made it to the World Cup when defender Jacob Poulson's shot from outside the penalty area bounced just in front of Swedish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and over his outstretched arms as Denmark defeated Sweden, 1-0.

Things were much easier for host Serbia, which qualified for the first time as an independent nation by defeating Romania, 5-0, in Belgrade.

"If we continue like this in South Africa, we will be a power to reckon with at the World Cup," Coach Radomir Antic said.

A goal by striker Didier Drogba gave the Ivory Coast a 1-1 tie on the road against Malawi and the Ivory Coast became the third African team to reach the 2010 World Cup, after host South Africa and Ghana.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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