Mexico blanks Honduras 2-0 in OT at Gold Cup
Mexico survived its most gruelling match of the Gold Cup to set up a championship rematch with its biggest rival.
Aldo de Nigris and Javier (El Chicharito) Hernandez scored off corner kicks early in overtime and Mexico defeated Honduras 2-0 in the semifinals on Wednesday night in Houston, advancing to play the United States in Saturday's final at the Rose Bowl.
The Americans advanced with a 1-0 win over Panama earlier Wednesday.
Mexico and the U.S. have played in the last two tournament finals, and won nine of the 10 Gold Cups contested since the biennial tournament took its current form in 1991. The United States beat El Tri 2-1 in 2007, and Mexico won 5-0 in the 2009 final.
"They are a complicated rival," Hernandez said. "We have to rest up, enjoy this victory and then we'll think about them beginning tomorrow."
Mexico has outscored its five Gold Cup opponents by an aggregate score of 18-2, but Wednesday's game wasn't easy. Both teams played feisty, physical defence and were whistled for 22 fouls apiece.
Honduras earned seven yellow cards and Mexico got three.
"We knew it would be tough," Mexican coach Jose Manuel de La Torre said. "I think our team struggled to find the spaces we were looking for, sometimes because of us being imprecise but also because of the rival. But little by little we found them."
Out of gas?
Pablo Barrera assisted on both goals in overtime, when Honduras seemed to run out of energy.
De Nigris headed the first past Honduran goalkeeper Orlin Vallecillo in the third minute of the extra period, drawing roars from the heavily pro-Mexico crowd at Reliant Stadium.
The baby-faced "Chicharito," already a huge star in Mexico, then triggered the loudest cheer of the night when he used his right hip to redirect Barrera's corner kick in the ninth minute of overtime. Hernandez yanked on his jersey and kissed the team logo before his teammates mobbed him in the corner of the field.
The 23-year-old Hernandez leads the tournament with seven goals, the second-most ever in a single Gold Cup. Mexico's Luis Roberto Alves scored 11 in 1993.
Honduran coach Luis Fernando Suarez acknowledged that his team wore down in the extra period.
"We were always looking to attack," he said. "We need time to become stronger. It's not just 90 minutes, but 120 minutes."
The Mexicans, meanwhile, continued to roll through the tournament, despite a retooled roster.
Five players — goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, defenders Francisco Rodriguez and Edgar Duenas, and midfielders Christian Bermudez and Antonio Naelson -- were suspended before the tournament for positive tests for clenbuterol.
CONCACAF allowed Mexico to replace the suspended players for the rest of the tournament, and defenders Paul Aguilar, Hiram Mier and Hector Reynoso and goalkeeper Luis Michel and midfielder Marco Fabian were added to the roster.
Reliant Stadium, home of the National Football League's Houston Texans, was packed with green-clad fans of El Tri, and roars went up every time a Mexican player dribbled into the open field.
The announced crowd was 70,627, the second-largest attendance figure for a soccer match in the stadium's history. Last summer's game between Manchester United and all-stars from Major League Soccer drew 70,728.
Both teams played feisty, physical defence and were whistled for 22 fouls apiece. Honduras earned seven yellow cards and Mexico got three.
But the Mexicans controlled possession for the bulk of the game, and nearly took the lead in the 11th minute, when Hector Moreno's header sailed wide.
As Honduras tried to outmuscle the Mexicans in the first half, Mexico still found ways to break through the defence.
Late in the half, Hernandez chased a pass from Andres Guardado into the goal crease, where he tangled his feet with a Honduran defender and went down. The Mexican fans screamed in protest, but no foul was called that time.
Both teams generated scoring chances in the frantic final minutes.
With about three minutes left in regulation, Mexico's Giovani Dos Santos broke free behind the Honduran defence and hooked a low shot just wide of the net, with only the goalkeeper in his way.
In the last minute of regulation, Honduran Roger Espinoza fired a left-footed shot from 25 feet that just sailed over Mexico's goal.
A fan carrying a Mexican flag ran onto the field in stoppage time, and two uniformed police officers tackled him and led him off the field in handcuffs to more cheers from the rowdy crowd.