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COLUMBUS — For more than two hours, the red-white-and-blue-clad crowd stood and sang “Dos a cero! Dos a cero!” over and over and over.
And 2-0 it was.
The United States clinched its seventh straight World Cup appearance, getting second-half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan on Tuesday night for the now traditional 2-0 home qualifying win over Mexico.
“It’s become its own monster. People want to come to Columbus and see U.S.-Mexico. And so it’s almost like the mecca really for us,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You almost feel like it’s our destiny to win here.”
Noisy American fans stood and sang in Columbus Crew Stadium starting 1½ hours before kickoff, and about 1,000 stayed for an hour after the final whistle. The U.S. needed a win or a tie from Honduras against Panama to clinch with two games to spare, and the American supporters watched on the videoboard as the Catrachos held on for a 2-2 draw.
U.S. players crowded around a television in their locker room, and then sprayed bubbly and came back on the field to celebrate with the fans.
“It’s great to do it sooner than later, but to get it against your rival is even sweeter,” American captain Clint Dempsey said.
Following wins over Mexico in qualifiers by identical 2-0 scores at Columbus in 2001, 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Soccer Federation picked the same venue for this year’s match. The capacity crowd of 24,584 taunted the Mexicans with chants of “You’re not going to Brazil!”
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“Amazing, amazing crowd,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Kind of pushed these guys.”
Fans were so loud during “The Star-Spangled Banner” that anthem singer Kayleigh Schofield was forced to alter her tempo to match that of the crowd.
“I think it really got into Mexico’s head, especially when we scored that first goal. You could see it on Mexico’s face. They were really defeated,” American defender Omar Gonzalez said. “From that point on we really took control of the game.”
After withstanding early Mexican pressure, the U.S. settled in the match and got the breakthrough in the 49th minute when Johnson outjumped defender Diego Reyes to meet Donovan’s corner kick 8 yards out and head the ball past frozen goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
With Mexican shifting to an offense-minded 3-4-3 formation, the U.S. scored in the 78th following a throw in when Mix Diskerud threaded the ball across the middle. Dempsey got the slightest of touches as he slid into the goalmouth, and Donovan poked the ball in from 2 yards.
“Obviously this is a huge, huge evening for all of us,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to a World Cup.”
The U.S. (5-2-1) moved into first place in the North and Central American and Caribbean finals with 16 points, one ahead of Costa Rica (4-1-3), which was held to a 1-1 tie at last-place Jamaica and also clinched.
Honduras (3-3-2) is third with 11 points and on track for the region’s final automatic berth for the 32-nation field for Brazil next June. Panama moved ahead of Mexico (both 1-2-5) on goal scored for fourth place, which advances to a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand.
“This a team that could and should play better,” said Luis Fernando Tena, who replaced Chepo de la Torre as Mexico’s coach following Friday’s 2-1 home loss to Honduras. “It has to take a step forward if we want to make it to the World Cup.”
Johnson, starting because of Jozy Altidore’s suspension for yellow-card accumulation, nearly scored off Donovan’s cross in the third minute of the second half, but the pass was just ahead of him.
A minute later, the U.S. took just its second corner kick of the match. Jermaine Jones and Johnson both broke in from behind the penalty spot, and Mexico was slow to react as Johnson scored his 12th goal in 21 qualifying appearances. He was mobbed by teammates near the U.S. bench as fans set off a smoke bomb.
“We’ve got some good height in the box, and this time I wanted to make sure I kept it down enough,” Johnson said. “I was very fortunate it went in.”
Donovan, his right eye squinting because of conjunctivitis, increased his U.S.-record goals total to 57, set off a nonstop singalong for the closing minutes of the match.
“You see it when we came in the stadium. It was rockin’ already,” Donovan said. “That’s a real atmosphere. That’s what we face when we go away, and it’s nice that other teams have to face it when they come here.”
And Mexico now has a tough challenge, hosting Panama on Oct. 11 before closing four days later at Costa Rica.
“They looked relatively timid and shy throughout. I’ve never seen a Mexico team look that way,” Donovan said.
Dealing with an injury to midfielder Michael Bradley and yellow-card suspensions that also included defender Matt Besler and midfielder Geoff Cameron, Klinsmann had to make several changes from Friday’s 3-1 loss at Costa Rica — which ended the Americans’ team-record 12-game winning streak.
Fabian Johnson shifted from midfield to the back line, and Clarence Goodson was among four new starters, joined by midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya, and Eddie Johnson. Fabian Johnson strained his left hamstring and was replaced by Michael Parkhurst for the start of the second half.
Mexico dominated the first 20 minutes of the opening half and the last five, forcing Howard to make several sprawling saves.
“Once we weathered that storm, Mexico didn’t have much in the second half,” Gonzalez said.
Now the Americans can take it easy in the final two qualifiers, against Jamaica on Oct. 11 at Kansas City, Kan., and at Panama four days later. Exhibitions are likely at Scotland and Austria in November.
Klinsmann won the World Cup as a player with Germany in 1990 and coached his native country to the 2006 semifinals. He’s lived in California for 15 years and understands the accomplishment.
As he spoke during his postgame news conference, he had a Starbucks cup in front of him, presumably filled with champagne.
“It’s not Aquafina,” he said, laughing.