U.S. men’s national team beats Mexico ‘dos a cero’ then punches ticket to Brazil for World Cup

The Legend of Dos a Cero lives.

And this time, it may just come with a ticket to Brazil.

Eddie Johnson headed home Landon Donovan’s corner kick four minutes into the second half Tuesday night, and Donovan tapped home the clincher in the 79th minute as the U.S. national team clinched a 2014 World Cup berth with a 2-0 triumph at Columbus Crew Stadium.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard also came up with a trio of huge saves in the first half as the U.S. overcame the absence of four key contributors to notch its 13th win in 14 summer contests — including a CONCACAF Gold Cup crown — and shut down a Mexico team in World Cup disarray.

Shortly after the U.S. victory, Honduras and Panama finished in a 2-2 draw, which gave the Americans an automatic bid to Brazil.

U.S. players and coach Juergen Klinsmann watched the end of the match before meeting with the media.

The United States ascended to the top spot of CONCACAF’s six-team qualifying group (5-2-1) after Costa Rica drew against Jamaica 1-1. The top three earn places in the Brazil 2014 lineup, with the final two qualifying matches set for October.

Mexico (1-2-5) was playing its first game under new coach Luis Fernando Tena, who took the reins after Friday night’s home loss to Honduras resulted in the swift firing of Chepo de la Torre.

Tena guided Mexico to its first Olympic gold medal last year in London, but couldn’t find a way to end El Tri’s scoreless drought against the United States — now at 343 minutes, or nearly four complete matches.

It was the fourth consecutive time that the United States had won by a 2-0 score when hosting Mexico in a World Cup qualifying match. All four have come in Columbus, which has become a house of horrors for Mexico in World Cup qualifying.

A sellout crowd of 24,584 began the night chanting “This is our house” and finished it by serenading Mexico with strains of “You’re not going to Brazil.”

Clint Dempsey actually could have made it 3-0 when the United States was awarded a penalty minutes before the end — but he pushed his effort wide right.

But two was enough on this night, even with some of the more prominent U.S. names — including Boca Raton’s Jozy Altidore — either on the sidelines or back with their clubs.

Altidore, midfielder Geoff Cameron and central defender Mike Besler all had to serve one-game suspensions for yellow-card accumulations. In addition, midfielder Michael Bradley was still nursing a sprained ankle suffered during final warmups before Friday’s loss at Costa Rica.

Johnson replaced Altidore at the top of the formation, with Kyle Beckerman in Bradley’s spot and Clarence Goodson in central defense. Weston’s Alejandro Bedoya also earned a start, playing on the right wing with mixed results.

Johnson was turned away on a flying downward header in the first half, as Mexico goalkeeper Jose Corona dove to his right after a Donovan corner kick. But he was not to be denied on his second chance.

Donovan sent a kick from the right side, with Johnson getting his head on the ball just in front of an onrushing Corona for his fourth goal of the year and 19th in international competition.

Thirty minutes later, it was Donovan’s turn. Playing his first World Cup qualifier after an extended break from the national team, he ran onto a low centering pass from Mix Diskerud to extend his U.S. record with his 57th career goal.

The first half belonged to Howard, who needed to come up big – including two saves in the waning minutes – to overcome some disjointed defending and get to the break in a 0-0 tie.

Howard exploded to his left in the 44th minute after Giovanni dos Santos unleashed a right-footed shot from the edge of the box. Then after Bedoya drew his yellow card for pulling down Christian Gimenez in stoppage time, Howard had to punch away Diego Reyes’ dangerous header at the near post on the ensuing free kick.

Howard also denied Gimenez in the 19th minute after the Mexican midfielder split the defense on the dribble.

Mexico, meanwhile, managed to keep Donovan and Johnson bottled up through most of the half. Both had chances late in the half, but saw shots from near the top of the penalty area deflected to Corona in near identical fashion.

The U.S. didn’t create its first legitimate scoring chance until winning its first corner kick in the 31st minute. Johnson swooped in to head it toward the lower left corner, but Corona met the challenge.