De Nigris returns Mexico to Gold Cup title match

HOUSTON - Aldo De Nigris and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez scored in extra time to send Mexico to the Gold Cup final with a 2-0 win against Honduras on Wednesday at Reliant Stadium.

Mexico finally broke a goalless deadlock when De Nigris sent a Pablo Barrera corner kick past Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares via a header three minutes into the first extra time period.

De Nigris downplayed the significance of his goal, quickly crediting his teammates.

"The goals come because of a team effort," De Nigris said. "I am thankful for being able to play on a national team and to have the chance to play soccer. I don't believe in luck. I believe in daily hard work that we put in to accomplish important things."

Chicharito sealed the win in six minutes later. He pushed a De Nigris header into the net from the goal line with his abdomen. De Nigris' headed a Barrera corner kick to set up Chicharito's goal.

The goals sent the crowd of 70,627 into frenzy and were the breakthrough El Tri needed against a Honduras team that gave Mexico its toughest challenge yet in the tournament.

Mexico will play the United States in the championship match Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, setting up a showdown between the border rivals. The United States beat Panama 1-0 in the first semifinal of a doubleheader.

Mexico and the United States will meet for the third consecutive time in the championship match and fifth overall.

El Tri is the defending champion, having beaten the Americans 5-0 in 2009, and leads all nations with five Gold Cup titles.

The winner of Saturday's final clinches a berth in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013. That team will get a chance to preview the country's hotels, stadiums and other accommodations prior to the 2014 World Cup.

The 2009 final featured different Mexico and United States teams. Mexico used what many considered a "B" team, while the United States, having just finished runner-up at the Confederations Cup, used in some respects a third-choice team.

Regardless of the squads, the rivalry has remained intense.

The same could be said about Honduras on Wednesday.

The Catrachos pressured Mexico, trying to take away possession and close space against a speedy Mexico attack.
However, Mexico controlled possession for the most part of a scoreless first half, creating a handful of scoring opportunities.

The first one came early for El Tri.

Left wing Andres Guardado sent a left-footed shot from about 20 meters wide left in the fifth minute and Mexico had another clear shot in the 31st minute when Barrera tried to bring down a Guardado pass with his chest inside the six-yard box. He couldn't gain full control of the ball and Vallardes scooped the ball before Guardado could pounce.
Honduras continued to defend its territory, absorbing some of Mexico's attack while sealing off space. Mexico pushed forward hoping to break the Honduran defense.

"That's what we expected," Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said. "Honduras was a very organized team that was always very attentive closing our space one way or another, looking for a counter-attack to try and cause us harm. Little by little we kept finding a way."

De la Torre repeated a tactic that worked against Guatemala in the quarterfinals, inserting forward Aldo de Nigris for Guardado in the 53rd minute.

De Nigris, who had scored in three of four previous games all as a substitute, again was dangerous, heading just over the crossbar in the 68th minute off a Barrera corner kick.

Barrera had an opportunity of his own when he sent a right-footed blast from about 25 meters a minute earlier. Valladares punched the ball high and it fell on top of the crossbar before bouncing onto the top of the net.
Mexico continued to push, looking for a breakthrough goal.

Chicharito, who ran through the penalty area unmarked to just outside the six, headed a Barrera free kick just wide of the right post in the 74th minute.

Honduras also pushed its attack late in the game, often wasting is opportunities with botched corner kicks or offside runs. Roger Espinoza had the Catrachos' best chance in the 90th, hitting a right-footed drive from distance that Mexican keeper Alfredo Talavera tipped over the bar.

"I think we did important things, interesting things throughout the game," Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez said. "We lost the focus we had during the first 90 minutes once the extra period began, and they scored the first goal. The team had to change and that gave them an advantage."

Giovani Dos Santos appeared to have the winning opportunity in the 88th minute on a Honduran turnover at midfield, but after driving alone against Valladares put his attempt wide.

It appeared Valladares got enough of the ball to change its trajectory, but television replays were inconclusive.
"I crossed it too much," Dos Santos said. "At the last moment I had too many things running through my mind and shot it wide."

Honduras, which finished with 10 men after Espinoza was sent off late in the second extra period for yellow-card accumulation, had threats of its own as regulation expired.

Besides Espinoza's drive, Omar Chavez collided with Talavera for a high ball in the first minute of injury time, the last chance for either team before heading to extra time.