HOUSTON — Mexico needed goals from Aldo de Nigris and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández in the first half of extra time to defeat a very tough Honduras squad 2-0 on Wednesday night at a sold-out Reliant Stadium. The victory moves Mexico into the Gold Cup final, where they will face archrivals United States on Saturday.
It may have taken 93 minutes, but El Tri finally found a way to defeat a Catrachos team that all night proved a worthy, and at times a superior, opponent.
De Nigris, who came on as a second-half substitute, rose highest to meet a corner kick from Pablo Barrera three minutes into extra time, and Hernández added insurance with a goal of his own six minutes later.
Usually off to slow starts, Mexico tried to correct that issue against Honduras by taking the early initiative. Barely five minutes in, Andrés Guardado pounced on a ball set up by Chicharito, but the winger’s left-footed shot from 25 yards out curled wide of the goal.
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Barrera also took aim from distance, but his shot also went wide of the net.
While Honduras’ tactic of cluttering the midfield with five players took a while to start functioning, it eventually did, and los Catrachos started finding their feet on the pitch to balance out the play.
After being kept mostly in their own half for the early part of the first stanza, Honduras started launching into the attack, getting their first chance in the 26th minute. Alfredo Mejía came up with the ball outside the box, but with forward Jerry Bengtson awaiting service in the box, the midfielder chose to rifle a shot that went harmlessly wide of goal.
As the match progressed, Honduras’ confidence grew. In the 37th minute, Oscar Boniek García came up with the ball on the right side and unleashed a cross that forced Mexico ‘keeper Alfredo Talavera into a save.
Just before the halftime whistle, Hernández intercepted a shot from Guardado near the net and appeared to be brought down, but the referee waived it off, giving Honduras a goal kick instead.
After emerging from the locker rooms tied 0-0, Honduras continued to enjoy increased possession on the ball as their five-man midfield kept troubling Mexico.
Mexico finally got a look at goal in the 65th minute, albeit not a very good one, when Hernández was beaten to a loose ball by Honduras ‘keeper Noel Valladares.
That was enough to give Mexico a burst of energy, though. Barrera again tried his luck from distance, but his rocket was deflected by Valladares. Hernández waited for the ball to drop for what would’ve been an easy tap-in, but it instead hit the top of the crossbar and bounced out.
With Honduras looking for a fresh spark up top, striker Carlo Costly made his way into the match for a tired Bengtson. The move nearly paid dividends when he was brought down in the box in the 79th minute, but the ref waived play on.
With the match in the closing minutes of regular time, Mexico wasted a golden chance. In the 89th minute, Chicharito intercepted a pass and played the ball through to Giovani dos Santos for a one-on-one against Valladares, but the speedster drove it wide of the far post.
Honduras responded seconds later via Roger Espinoza, whose left-footed blast from afar would’ve been a highlight-reel goal had Talavera not made a diving save to send the match into overtime.
Once there, Mexico came alive. De Nigris nodded home three minutes in. Six minutes later, it was Hernández’s turn to add to his tournament-leading account. De Nigris again rose to meet a Barrera corner kick and his header found Chicharito at the far post. Replays showed Hernández may have knocked it in with his forearm, but the goal stood and Mexico found themselves in front by two.
With wall broken down, El Tri looked to add a third shortly after when Paul Aguilar drove his shot past an outstretched Valladares but directly onto the crossbar.
Mexico proceeded to hold down the fort to secure their ticket into the final, where they will meet the US at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday to decide the 2011 Gold Cup champion.
MEX – de Nigris, 93’
MEX – Hernández, 99’
HON – Bernárdez, 17’
MEX – Torrado, 37’
HON – Portillo, 40’
MEX – Juárez, 52’
HON – Sabillón, 73’
HON – Chávez, 90’
MEX – de Nigris, 93’
HON – Espinoza, 99’
HON – Espinoza, 115
Honduras – Noel Valladares, Juan Carlos García, Víctor Bernárdez (Johnny Leverón, 46’), Osman Chávez, Mauricio Sabillón, Javier Portillo (Ramón Nuñez, 61’), Roger Espinoza, Hendry Thomas, Alfredo Mejía, Oscar Boniek García, Jerry Bengtson (Carlo Costly, 71’)
Mexico – Alfredo Talavera, Carlos Salcido (Jorge Torres Nilo, 56’), Héctor Moreno, Rafa Márquez, Efraín Juárez, Andrés Guardado (Aldo de Nigris, 53’), Gerardo Torrado, Israel Castro, Pablo Barrera, Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernández