Mexico's Carlos Salcido, left, and United States captain Clint Dempsey… (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated…)
U.S. 0 - Mexico 0 (final)
MEXICO CITY – It may not have been the gift the the U.S. was hoping for. But Tuesday’s scoreless tie with Mexico in a World Cup qualifying match in a soldout Azteca Stadium is one the Americans aren’t likely to return.
Content with simply escaping with a result from a place where they’ve traditionally had little success, the Americans turned in a gutsy, composed and stellar defensive effort to come away with what must have felt like a win.
For Mexico, however, the tie clearly felt like a loss. El Tri has played two World Cup qualifiers in as many months at home and not only haven’t they won, they haven’t even scored.
Tuesday’s result in Azteca, combined with Costa Rica’s 2-0 win over Jamaica and Panama’s 2-0 victory over Honduras, moves the U.S. into third place and leaves Mexico in fifth place in the six-team qualifying pool.
Only the top three countries are guaranteed a berth in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
U.S. 0 - Mexico 0 (Halftime)
The first half of the World Cup qualifier between Mexico and the U.S. ended just as it started Tuesday: with no score.
But if you were judging on style points, Mexico would probably have a comfortable lead.
The defensive strategy for the U.S. was fairly simple: make things difficult for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico’s prolific and high-scoring striker.
And the Americans did that it by double-teaming him, pounding him, once even knocking him down in the box — a foul the linesman appeared to signal, waving his flag frantically, only to be waved off by the referee.
The U.S. also played a dangerously high line, pushing its defenders out 30 yards from the goal. But Chicharito still managed to get his chances, narrowly missing on a header in the 21st minute. Then eight minutes later he came even closer on a diving header at the near post.
And finally, in the 43rd minute a scramble in front of the U.S. saw Mexico’s Jesus Zavala collide with goalkeeper Brad Guzan going for a dangerous cross inside the six-yard box.
But the U.S. did a good job at slowing the frenetic Mexican attack down about midway through the half, climbing back into the game.
The best U.S. chance in the first half came on a corner kick in the 15th minute that missed inches wide at the far post — not that it would have counted anyway since Geoff Cameron was whistled for a foul on the play.
The last time the Mexican national team played at Estadio Azteca, it was booed off the field by its own fans during a scoreless tie with Jamaica.
Boy, talk about tough crowds.
That match last month marked just the seventh time in 75 World Cup qualifiers at home that Mexico failed to win. And it hasn’t lost a qualifier at home since 2001.
So, suffice it to say the pressure is on the Mexican team when it takes the field at before another sellout crowd of more than 95,000 at Azteca on Tuesday for another World Cup qualifer, this time against the U.S.
And just in case it gets ugly, approximately 800 police officers, many in riot gear, began roaming the parking lots and concourses of the hulking stadium more than four hours before game time. Another 460 private security agents were nearby.
After ties in its first two matches in the final round of qualifying for 2014 World Cup, Mexico began Tuesday in a three-way tie for third in the six-team group, which will send three teams on to Brazil. The U.S., which played through a blizzard to beat Costa Rica, 1-0, last Friday is second, one point ahead of Mexico.
But with just three home matches left in the tournament after Tuesday, Mexico desperately needs a win over its rival from the north — not only to quiet the crowd but perhaps to save the job of its coach, Jose Manuel de la Torre, who is under fire despite the fact his team has not lost in eight matches in the last two rounds of World Cup qualifying.
“I understand the ill will, but it’s always better to have the people on your side, that they’re suppporting you, especially in these kinds of situations” Mexican midfielder Giovani Dos Santos said a pre-match press conference Monday. “We’re all self-critical, we’re professionals, we know we have to do things well and that we’ve done them poorly.”
As for the U.S., which is missing nine players from its national team pool to injury, Tuesday’s game is also important from a momentum standpoint. After his team played poorly in a loss to Honduras in its qualifying opener last month, U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann was the target of criticism, with players — who remain anonymous — questioning both his methods and acumen.
Klinsmann dismissed the attacks as rumors, saying that he, too, could “invent things based on fake stories from the past.”
And speaking of Klinsmann’s past, although the U.S. has struggled in Mexico – going 1-23-1 all-time in Mexico and 1-8-1 at Azteca – the lone win belongs to Klinsmann, who guided his team to a 1-0 victory over Mexico in Mexico City last August.
And in five games as a player and coach with the German national team, Klinsmann never lost to Mexico, winning twice and playing to three draws.
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