Mexico were the only winners on the second matchday of CONCACAF's final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. El Tri finally put an end to their dreadful run of recent form with a decisive 2-0 win over Costa Rica at their Estadio Azteca. Group leaders the United States only barely avoided ignominious defeat down in Central America, scoring twice in the last quarter-hour to draw with El Salvador, while Trinidad and Tobago pulled off their own last-gasp heroics to take a point against Honduras in Port of Spain.
Game of the day
El Salvador 2-2 United States
Goals: Eliseo Quintanilla 15, Cristian Castillo 72; Jozy Altidore 77, Frankie Hejduk 88.
The United States looked dead and buried with a quarter-hour of their road test to go in San Salvador. Castillo's sharp header doubled the early lead provided by top scorer Quintanilla to seemingly end any US hopes of pulling a point on the road. Spain-based teenager Jozy Altidore - brought on by coach Bob Bradley with an hour gone - pulled an opportunistic goal back with 13 minutes to go, but it seemed mere consolation. However, the Salvadoran fans, in full voice up to that point, seemed to falter and the team looked to be losing faith in their ability to hang on for the win. In the end, midfield grafter Frankie Hejduk proved the hero the Americans needed, popping up to head home a loose ball, only half-punched out by the keeper, from point-blank range.
The other games
Mexico came into their home game against Costa Rica on a dreadful run of four qualifiers without a win, and dead last in the final six-team group. But buoyed by their raucous fans and the inspirational play of Pavel Pardo and Andres Guardado, El Tri managed to find their form, and even turn on the style a bit. Omar Bravo followed up his own rebound to open the scoring in the first half, before Pardo - the only survivor from the infamous loss to Costa Rica at the Azteca in 2001 - was fouled in the area. The grizzled veteran stepped up to the spot and slammed home, sealing a 2-0 win for the much-relieved hosts and their under-fire coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Trinidad and Tobago were down 1-0 to Honduras with just seconds to go, and missing their inspirational captain Dwight Yorke to suspension. Even so, Khaleem Hyland popped up providentially in the fading moments to score a soft goal, equalising Carlos Pavon's opener as both sides finished with a point each after an uninspiring 90 minutes of football at the Hasely Crawford.
Player of the day
Frankie Hejduk, so often an unsung hero for the US, managed to cover himself in glory in San Salvador. Down two goals and with more renowned players looking around for someone to save the day, Frankie took the game by the scruff of the neck. He set up Altidore's goal and then knocked the young striker out of the way to score the equaliser in a famous fight-back. Fresh on the heels of a fine performance in last month's win over Mexico, the Columbus Crew man is proving himself invaluable to the US cause with his determination and new-found attacking flair.
The numbers game
Costa Rica's loss in Mexico City brought the curtain down on a dazzling unbeaten streak of nine games without a loss in qualifying (a full 810 minutes of football). On the other side, Mexico's win is their first in South Africa 2010 qualifying since a 2-1 victory over Canada in September of last year (a space of four games).
"I couldn't be happier with the result tonight. We showed poise and confidence throughout the game and our finishing was spot-on right when we needed it to be. It's a very important victory for us and it couldn't have come at a better time," Mexico midfielder Pavel Pardo after the 2-0 win over Costa Rica.