COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Second half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan gave the United States a 2-0 win at home to Mexico on Tuesday that virtually assured them of a place in the World Cup finals next year in Brazil.
The U.S. are top of the CONCACAF standings on 16 points and will be officially through to Brazil so long as Panama do not beat Honduras later on Tuesday.
Clint Dempsey missed an injury time penalty for the United States in a victory which leaves Mexico, who have eight points facing the real possibility of missing out on an automatic qualification spot.
Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena, taking charge for the first time following the firing of Jose Manuel de la Torre, recalled Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez to the starting line-up and their impact was felt early.
With Giovani dos Santos and Guardado stretching the U.S. defence, Argentine born playmaker Christian Gimenez found plenty of space and forced Tim Howard into a fine diving save in the 19th minute.
Moments later Gimenez fired a free-kick just over the bar as Mexico took the game to the Americans.
Mexico keeper Jose Corona did well with a diving header from Johnson from a rare U.S. attack but the danger was coming from the visitors - Dos Santos dribbled in the box and tested Howard with a stinging drive and then on the stroke of half-time Howard’s reflexes kept out a header from Diego Reyes.
It was goalless at the break but Mexico had been superior in all departments with the Americans sorely missing the presence of the injured Michael Bradley in central midfield and the attacking threat of the suspended Jozy Altidore.
But four minutes after the interval, the U.S. grabbed the lead when Donovan swung in a corner and Johnson broke free of his marker to power in a header past Corona who was caught in no-man’s land.
The noisy crowd at the compact Crew stadium sensed a victory was within reach and that confidence appeared shared by their team who began to dominate the midfield.
Mexico, in contrast, looked utterly crestfallen by the goal, the belief faded quickly and there was no way back for them after substitute Mix Diskerud slipped the ball across the box, and Donovan slotted in to make it 2-0 in the 78th minute.
Dempsey’s awful penalty in the final seconds, after he had been fouled in the box, barely went noticed by the celebrating fans who savoured the victory over their traditional rivals in the CONCACAF region.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney/Greg Stutchbury