The United States' Landon Donovan celebrates his goal against Mexico during the second half of a World Cup qualifier Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For more than two hours, the red-white-and-blue-clad crowd stood and sang “Dos a cero! Dos a cero!” over and over and over.
And 2-0 it was.
The United States clinched its seventh straight World Cup appearance, getting second-half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan for the now traditional 2-0 home qualifying win over Mexico.
“It’s become its own monster. People want to come to Columbus and see U.S.-Mexico. It’s almost like the mecca really for us,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You almost feel like it’s our destiny to win here.”
Noisy American fans stood and sang in Columbus Crew Stadium starting 1½ hours before kickoff, and about 1,000 stayed for an hour after the final whistle. The U.S. needed a win or a tie from Honduras against Panama to clinch with two games to spare, and the American supporters watched on the videoboard as the Catrachos held on for a 2-2 draw.
U.S. players crowded around a television in their locker room, and then sprayed bubbly and came back on the field to celebrate with the fans.
“It’s great to do it sooner than later, but to get it against your rival is even sweeter,” American captain Clint Dempsey said.
After withstanding Mexican pressure for the first 20 minutes, the U.S. settled in the match and got the breakthrough in the 49th minute when Johnson outjumped defender Diego Reyes to meet Donovan’s corner kick 8 yards out and head the ball past frozen goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
With Mexico shifting to an offense-minded 3-4-3 formation, the U.S. scored in the 78th following a throw in when Mix Diskerud threaded the ball across the middle. Dempsey got the slightest of touches as he slid into the goalmouth, and Donovan poked the ball in from 2 yards.
“Obviously this is a huge, huge evening for all of us,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to a World Cup.”
The U.S. (5-2-1) moved into first place in the North and Central American and Caribbean finals with 16 points, one ahead of Costa Rica (4-1-3), which was held to a 1-1 tie at last-place Jamaica and also clinched.
Honduras (3-3-2) is third with 11 points and on track for the region’s final automatic berth for the 32-nation field for Brazil next June. Panama moved ahead of Mexico (both 1-2-5) on goal difference for fourth place, which advances to a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand.
“This a team that could and should play better,” said Luis Fernando Tena, who replaced Chepo de la Torre as Mexico’s coach following Friday’s 2-1 home loss to Honduras. “It has to take a step forward if we want to make it to the World Cup.”
Following wins over Mexico in qualifiers by identical 2-0 scores at Columbus in 2001, 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Soccer Federation picked the same venue for this year’s match. The capacity crowd of 24,584 taunted the Mexicans with chants of “You’re not going to Brazil!”
Fans were so loud during “The Star-Spangled Banner” that anthem singer Kayleigh Schofield was forced to alter her tempo to match that of the crowd.
Johnson nearly scored off Donovan’s cross in the third minute of the second half, but the pass was just ahead of him.
A minute later, the U.S. took just its second corner kick of the match. Jermaine Jones and Johnson both broke in from behind the penalty spot, and Mexico was slow to react as Johnson scored his 12th goal in 21 qualifying appearances. He was mobbed by teammates near the U.S. bench as fans set off a smoke bomb.
Donovan’s goal, increasing his national team record to 57, set off a nonstop singalong for the closing minutes of the match.
“I’m proud of this team. I’m proud to be a part of it,” Donovan said. “These guys put in a lot of hard work over the last two years and to have an opportunity in front of a crowd like this to qualify is pretty special.”
Dealing with an injury to midfielder Michael Bradley and yellow-card suspensions of defender Matt Besler, midfielder Geoff Cameron and forward Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann had to make several changes from Friday’s 3-1 loss at Costa Rica.
Fabian Johnson shifted from midfield to the back line, and Clarence Goodson was among four new starters, joined by midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya, and forward Eddie Johnson. Fabian Johnson strained his left hamstring and was replaced by Michael Parkhurst for the start of the second half.
Mexico dominated the first 20 minutes of the opening half and the last five, forcing goalkeeper Tim Howard to make several sprawling saves.
The first came seven minutes in, when American left back DaMarcus Beasley scuffed a clearance and nearly put the ball in his own goal.
Howard made a diving parry on Christian Gimenez in the 19th, and then two minutes later pushed Gimenez’s free kick over the crossbar. Howard was forced into another diving save on Giovani Dos Santos in the 44th, and then dived to knock a header over the line in injury time after Bedoya pulled down Dos Santos with a sliding tackle, earning a yellow card.
The first good U.S. chance was when Donovan’s free kick was knocked down Omar Gonzalez in the 14th, and Jermaine Jones volleyed over the crossbar.
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