It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
And for Mexico, the end was a nightmare.
After looking like the CONCACAF power it had been only a year ago, scoring an early goal and dominating Honduras in the first half, El Tri fell apart after halftime and suffered a stunning 2-1 defeat at Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying on Friday night.
Oribe Peralta gave Mexico the lead just six minutes in, but Jerry Bengston and Carlos Costly scored within a three-minute span midway through the second half to give Mexico only its second home loss in 78 World Cup qualifying matches.
As things stand now, El Tri is out of position to earn an automatic World Cup spot as it sits behind the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras in fourth place of the Hexagonal standings. To make things worse, El Tri will visit the Americans Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
The top-three finishers qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-place squad will play a one-game playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand for a spot in Brazil next summer.
Mexico, which has qualified for the last six World Cups, has been on a cold streak that started after the nation won gold at the London Olympics over a year ago. El Tri is winless through its first seven games of the Hexagonal, losing twice and drawing five. including three scoreless ties at home.
Desperate to keep his job, Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre made a bold move against the Central Americans by benching striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, who recently returned from a hamstring injury. Peralta got the call up front in the Manchester United star’s place, and he was the one shining star for El Tri.
In just the sixth minute, Peralta would end Mexico’s scoring drought at home thanks to the speed of Giovani Dos Santos, who blew by an unbalanced Honduras defense to find his streaking teammate on the right to knock in his seventh career international goal.
El Tri looked like a team on a mission throughout the rest of the first half despite not creating any further scoring opportunities before halftime. With 68 percent of the possession through 45 minutes, it was apparent that Honduras, which rallied from two down late to tie Mexico in the previous meeting between the two teams in the Hex, would need another miracle to stun the home crowd.
And Los Catrachos once again handled the pressure.
Well into the second half, searching for their first scoring chance of the match, Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suárez tossed Jerry Bengston onto the pitch and the momentum would swing in the visiting team’s direction for the remainder of the match.
In the 64th minute, Honduras delivered a long free kick into the box that was handled by Oscar Boniek García, who fired a left-footed shot on goal. Goalkeeper Jesus Corona couldn’t control the rebound and Bengston was the man on the spot to knock it in.
It was Honduras’ first away goal in the Hex, but it wouldn’t be its last. Three minutes later, Costly took advantage of a long clearance and fired a low shot into the far corner.
Mexico did all it could to get back in the game and possibly save its coach’s job, but the best it could do was hit the post with just minutes remaining. In fact, it was Honduras which had the last chance of the match as Costly missed a wide-open net just to the right of the post.
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