Miguel Sabah’s 81st-minute goal lifted Mexico to a 2-1 victory over the United States in a 2010 World Cup qualifier on Wednesday while Honduras felled regional leaders Costa Rica 4-0.
The victory at famed Azteca Stadium kept the United States winless on Mexican soil and bolstered Mexico’s chances of advancing from the six-nation final round of qualifying in the North and Central America and Caribbean region.
“Today is a day to celebrate, and then get back to work,” said coach Javier Aguirre, who was brought in to replace Sven Goran Eriksson after a stuttering start to Mexico’s campaign. “Everybody will go to bed tonight a bit more relaxed.”
But Honduras’ victory in San Pedro Sula saw Mexico finish the night still in fourth place in the group, from which only the top three teams advance directly to next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa.
The fourth-placed team will play off for a berth against a team from South America.
The home fixture was a welcome chance for Mexico, who have never lost at home to the United States. The only time the US had managed to share the points was in a goalless draw in 1997.
When Charlie Davies put the United States ahead with his ninth-minute strike off a through ball from Landon Donovan, it marked the first time the US had ever held the lead at Azteca.
“This is what you live for, especially as a striker scoring bigtime goals,” Davies said.
But it didn’t last long.
Israel Castro equalized 10 minutes later, his shot from outside the penalty area sailing just under the crossbar and out of reach of Howard.
Castro’s equalizer energized the crowd of 90,000 at Azteca, who were keen to see Mexico repeat their 5-0 rout of a a young US side in the Gold Cup final last month.
While the United States fielded a stronger team for this qualifier, they still couldn’t end their history of south of the border futility.
Sabah, who came on in the 78th, needed just minutes to make his presence felt. He took full advantage of a ball from the left from Efrain Juarez and blasted past US keeper Tim Howard.
“The guy turned on it quickly and smashed it has hard as he could,” Howard said.
“It’s a tough loss, to have so many guys work so hard and then give up a late goal,” said US coach Bob Bradley. “The feeling inside is one of great disappointment.”
Honduras seized second place in the standings with their 4-0 triumph over Costa Rica.
Carlo Costly in the 30th and in second-half injury time, Carlos Pavon in the 50th and Melvin Valladares in the 89th delivered the goals that put Honduras on 10 points, two behind Costa Rica. The United States also have 10 points, followed by Mexico on nine.
At Port of Spain, Cornell Glen scored in the seventh minute and Trinidad and Tobago made the goal stand up for a 1-0 victory over El Salvador – their first of the final round.
Trinidad and Tobago remained in last place, now with the same five points as fifth-placed El Salvador.
Qualifying continues next month, with matches on September 5 and September 9.
On the fifth, Costa Rica host Mexico, Honduras host Trinidad and Tobago and the United States host El Salvador.
On the ninth, Mexico host Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago host the USA and El Salvador host Costa Rica.
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