HOUSTON — After cruising through the group stage and battling to win in the quarterfinals, Mexico’s grueling 2-0 extra time win on Wednesday night over Honduras in the Gold Cup semifinals perhaps didn’t go as smoothly as they would’ve liked.
Los Catrachos survived an early onslaught then proceeded to match, and at times outplay, El Tri over the course of 90 minutes before José Manuel de la Torre’s men broke through in the first half of overtime.
That’s exactly how El Tri thought the game could — and did — play out.
“That’s what we expected,” said de la Torre. “Honduras was a very ordered team, strong, they paid attention to closing spaces, and yes, they looked in one way or another for a counterattack to harm us. I think we just couldn’t find the spaces we looked for despite the movement [from the players] and some imprecision, but little by little we found [some holes].”
Honduras countered a potent Mexico team by putting out a five-man midfield line that was not only tasked with defending but also had to support lone striker Jerry Bengtson — and later Carlo Costly — by sending one or two men to accompany the forward on the attack.
The tactic worked successfully as the Catrachos at times dominated play, especially after speedy Tri left winger Andrés Guardado was forced out of the match with a slight knock. Hard-pressed to find the ball for large parts of the second half, Mexico couldn’t do anything but be patient — no matter how long it took.
El Tri had two chances in the second half to stake a lead, once around the 70-minute mark when Honduras ‘keeper Noel Valladares and the crossbar denied a Pablo Barrera shot from long distance, and then a minute before the end of regulation, when Giovani dos Santos found himself with just Valladares to beat but sent his shot wide of the far post.
Mexico would have to wait until extra time, when it took an effort from second-half sub Aldo de Nigris — who came on for Guardado — in the 93rd minute to chip away at the Catracho wall. Just six minutes later, El Tri got an insurance goal from Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.
“We knew it was going to be a complicated game,” said left back Carlos Salcido, who himself exited the tilt in the second half with a knock of his own. “We knew Honduras was a strong team with good players. We had talked about it a lot. But tonight, the patience we had, trying to aggravate them is what saw us through.”
“The most important thing is that the team never backed down,” added Giovani. “On the contrary, we began the first half of extra time with a lot of character, going forward. … We’re happy to accomplish our objective of reaching the final.”
That coveted final will come against none other than archrivals United States at a sold-out Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday. The rematch from 2009’s Gold Cup final will have some added incentive on the line. Besides fighting for pride, Mexico and the US will seek a berth into the 2013 Confederations Cup.
“It’ll be a special game between what I think are the two best teams in this Gold Cup,” said defender Rafa Márquez.