Second-half goals from Aldo de Nigris and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez lifted Mexico to a 2-1 victory over Guatemala and into the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Saturday.
Second-half substitute de Nigris grabbed an equalizer for defending champions Mexico in the 48th minute after Carlos Ruiz’s fifth-minute strike put Guatemala ahead.
Hernandez scored the match-winner in the 65th minute as Mexico advanced to a semi-final clash against Honduras, who won 4-2 on penalties against Costa Rica after they played out a 1-1 draw after extra time.
Honduras advanced in the first game of a doubleheader at New Meadowlands Stadium that drew a largely pro-Mexican sellout crowd of 78,807.
Mexico and Honduras will play on Wednesday in Houston.
“Our team is very strong at the core,” coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said. “They know they should win versus any adversity. We knew it was a difficult match and a difficult opponent. The early goal was because the field was a little complicated and heavy, but we knew that we would come back and we did.”
Mexico stayed on course for a title repeat despite a squad depleted when the national federation withdrew five players who tested positive for banned clenbuterol at a pre-tournament training camp in May.
Guatemala came out focused on pulling off an upset and Ruiz’s quick strike shocked the crowd.
Elias Enoc Vasquez’s long ball started the move. After Mexican defender Hector Moreno failed to clear the ball, Guatemalan captain Ruiz floated it over Mexico goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera.
Mexico had not previously trailed in the tournament.
Ruiz came close again in the 73rd minute, with Talavera saving his 25-yard shot to keep Mexico ahead.
Mexico, whose 14 first-round goals were seven more than any other team in group play, made one substitution at halftime as de Nigris replaced Israel Castro and made an immediate impact.
Hernandez scored the winner after a pass from Pablo Edson Barrera as Mexico enjoyed the bulk of the scoring chances in the second period.
“This time it was different than the other games when we scored first,” said Hernandez, the Manchester United star who leads the scoring table with six goals. “We went in and worked hard in the second half to get chances.”
Guatemala coach Ever Hugo Almeida said he was proud of his team.
“I think we have to be sincere, we’re not at the same level as the national team of Mexico,” Almeida said.
In the night’s opening match, Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares saved a penalty for the second time in as many matches as Honduras and Costa Rica ended extra time level at 1-1.
Costa Rica’s Celso Borges and Alvaro Saborio both hit the crossbar in the penalty shootout.
Jerry Bengtson had given Honduras the lead in the 49th minute, with Dennis Marshall equalizing in the 56th.
Valladares made sure the match stayed level in the 76th minute with a diving stop of Saborio’s penalty attempt.
“I’ve felt the emotions of scoring a goal for my country, but you can’t compare it to stopping a PK [penalty kick],” Valladares said. “I’ve lived [stopping PKs] more, and I’ve felt it more.”
Carlo Costly, Victor Bernardez, Wilson Palacios and Bengtson all converted in the penalty shootout for Honduras.
Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell converted in the shootout for Costa Rica.
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