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USA advances to 2014 World Cup

Landon Donovan helped seal the United States' 2-0 victory over Mexico on Tuesday night.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio

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“Dooos a ceeero!”

They’d been at it for hours on end, jabbing their fingers into a threesome of wounds that still gaped wide for the Mexican national team after descending on Columbus in the tens of thousands.

“Dooos a Ceeero!” Two-zero.

The throaty sea of red, white and blue US fans bellowed it for minutes on end. They’d sang it last night in the bars of Columbus, throughout the day at various pregame parties and tailgates, once they’d made it into the stadium, and during all of Tuesday night’s game.

After all, the US men’s national team had beaten archrivals Mexico here 2-0 in their World Cup qualifiers in 2001, 2005 and 2009. Every time the same score. And they’d sooner not let the sparse clusters of Mexican fans forget it.

On Tuesday, the US made it a fourth straight win over Mexico in Columbus, their unlikely emotional home, where a record 9,000 had packed into the supporters’ section behind the goal that Eddie Johnson would head the first and Landon Donovan would poke the second of the USA’s goals into.

Dos a cero. For a fourth consecutive time, spanning a dozen years. The win, coupled later with a draw between Honduras and Panama, booked the Yanks' place in the 2014 World Cup.

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The deafening chants of a crowd of 24,584 – who had won out in a lottery of more than 50,000 entrants or paid hundreds of dollars for their tickets on the secondary market – had put on quite the display before the game, laboring through the near-triple digit heat and underscoring their own patriotism on the eve of a day laden with symbolism.

If the raucous spectators were supposed to make the Mexicans uneasy, however, it was the Americans who started the game tentatively. El Tri happily let the US venture into its half before deploying its press, frequently catching the Americans out on a sloppy pass and charging forward en masse. The USA was essentially pinned back, in spite of having the bulk of the ball, because the center of the field was so congested that circulation grew very fraught.

The United States men's national team sealed their 2014 World Cup ticket on Tuesday night (Image: David Richard/USA TODAY Sports).

When the Americans gave up the ball, as they often did needlessly, Mexico hit a through ball, clipped one over the top or dispatched a winger, forcing the American back line to hang back more than it would like.

Only Clint Dempsey, who was manhandled at every chance, managed to forge some danger, running at defenders and looking to get teammates involved. But the execution of those forays was invariably lacking, whether it be on the final pass or the shot. And if Dempsey’s partnership with Donovan up the left wing was strong, the US didn’t make enough of its chances. In fact, were it not for a handful of majestic Tim Howard saves, the Yanks would most likely have closed out the opening act at a deficit.

The second half offered up a much changed picture, however. Seemingly sapped of energy, Mexico allowed the Americans to gain a better fluidity and sharpness. Coughing up fewer needless balls, El Tri had to work that much harder, furthering their fatigue.

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That helped the US open up the game some. On a quick break upfield, the Americans gained a 49th-minute corner. Donovan whipped it before the goal mouth, where Eddie Johnson wrestled free from his man, bulled his way forward and smashed his header hard and low and out of Jose Corona’s reach. That unloosed pandemonium.

Not quite half an hour later, substitute Mix Diskerud turned the corner into Mexico’s box and reached the back line. From there, he hit a low and hard ball toward the second post which Dempsey almost slid onto. Donovan, however, had made his way to the second post and was there to poke in the second goal ahead of his defender.

Dos a cero.

The remainder of the zippy and physical game was a formality now, it seemed. Surely the universe couldn’t interfere in a seemingly predestined outcome. That’s how it felt anyway. Inevitability. So when Dempsey earned and missed a very late penalty, that only seemed natural, somehow.

“You’re not going to Brazil!” the US fans sang at their vanquished opponents once again during the dying minutes. That was a bonus: They’d plunged Mexico even deeper into despair in the country's much-troubled qualifying campaign.

And if the American performance lacked polish, so be it. The atmosphere, outcome and ensuing satisfaction had more than made up for it.

“Dooos a ceeero!”

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