COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Needing a victory to virtually assure itself of a berth in next summer's World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. battled a desperate Mexico team through a scoreless first half in a World Cup qualifier at sold-out Columbus Crew Stadium on Tuesday.
A win over Mexico, combined with a win or draw by Honduras in its late game with Panama, would lock up a World Cup invitation for the Americans. But a win alone would leave Panama with only a remote mathematical chance of denying the Americans one of CONCACAF's three guaranteed slots in Brazil next June.
Playing before an energetic crowd of more than 25,000 -- few of whom sat down or stopped chanting during the half -- the U.S. played a conservative match in comparison to Mexico's desperate style.
For Mexico, a loss Tuesday would leave it facing a two-leg November playoff to determine its World Cup fate.
Mexico, which hasn't scored against the U.S. in nearly 300 minutes, nearly ended that drought in the 19th minute when Christian Gimenez cracked a shot from the right wing that appeared headed toward the back of the net at the far post. But goalkeeper Tim Howard leaped, stretched out and got both hands on the ball for the save.
Howard's toughest save to that point had come in the sixth minute when a dangerous cross from Mexico's Giovani dos Santos struck U.S. defender DaMarcus Beasley and nearly got past Howard for an own goal.
But Howard was at his best in the closing minutes of the half, making a difficult leaping save on Dos Santos' bullet followed by a diving save on a Gimenez free kick at the far post.
The absence of Michael Bradley from the U.S. central midfield was apparent in the early going as Mexico was able to build attack after attack from its own end of the field. The U.S. also helped by repeatedly turning the ball over.
But when the Americans were able to maintain possession they were dangerous -- and that nearly paid off in the 32nd minute when a powerful Eddie Johnson header off an outswinging Landon Donovan corner forced Mexican keeper Jose de Jesus Corona to make an exceptional save.
[Updated, 6:20 p.m. PDT Sept. 10: A leading header by Eddie Johnson into the center of the net gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead over Mexico in the 49th minute of the teams' World Cup qualifier Tuesday.
Johnson was set up on a bending corner kick from Donovan.]
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