Mexico secured its first victory in San Pedro Sula in half a century thanks to a superb goal each from young substitutes Jesús “Tecatito” Corona and Jürgen Damm to give Mexico a 2-0 win over Honduras in World Cup qualifying. In a tight contest in the afternoon heat of the Honduran city, both teams appeared more concerned with avoiding defeat for much of the encounter. But the match was brought spectacularly to life midway through the second half, first by a sensational flick and volley from Corona shortly after coming on and then just six minutes later by Damm cleverly beating Honduran goalkeeper Noel Vallardes at his near post.
Not only is the victory the first win for Mexico in the notoriously difficult conditions of San Pedro Sula since their first visit there in 1965, but it is their first win anywhere in Honduras in 22 years. And in the immediate term it means that, following a 3-0 win over El Salvador last Friday, Mexico move onto six points from two games in the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying. For new coach Juan Carlos Osorio, the start of his reign could hardly have gone any smoother. Ahead of a double-header against Canada next March, El Tri is already in a strong position to stroll toward the decisive six-team “Hexagonal.”
The picture is very different for Honduras. Qualifiers for the last two World Cups, Honduras are now in serious peril of failing to garner a place in the top two to move onto the final round of qualifying. A 1-0 defeat to Canada in Toronto to kick off the group was a real blow, but at least the team had the comfort of coming back to a venue where it has long been incredibly tough to beat. But now for coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who led Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup, two victories over El Salvador in five months’ time is surely the least that is required.
The situation is far rosier for his fellow Colombian Osorio. Taking over following Mexico’s victory over the United States to reach the 2017 Confederations Cup, the former Sao Paulo coach has kept the momentum rolling as he seeks to lead Mexico toward a far less stressful qualification campaign than it endured for the last World Cup.
Known for tinkering with his team, Osorio made five changes to his lineup from last Friday. Lining up in a 3-4-3 formation, Mexico initially appeared happy to take a pragmatic approach. With Honduras hardly pouring forward, for a long time it appeared the match would be remembered for a horrific leg injury suffered late in the first half by Honduras’ Luis Garrido. The extensive treatment required by the midfielder after a clash with Mexico’s Javier Aquino meant the first half was extended by six minutes.
When the second half got underway, Mexico began to gain the ascendency. Raúl Jiménez really should have given the visitors the lead 11 minutes after the restart, but somehow turned the ball over after Javier “Chicharito” Hernández had his effort saved.
It was the arrival of Corona shortly after, though, that truly provided the spark Mexico needed. Just five minutes after coming off the bench, the Porto winger capitalized on a half-cleared free-kick, flicking the ball past a defender with his left foot and then volleying into the bottom corner with his right.
Soon the result was put beyond doubt. Damm, a speedy winger from Tigres, was released down the right, and he too easily beat a defender before cutting inside. Goalkeeper Vallardes expected Damm to cross for the waiting Corona in the middle, but instead he shot straight for the net. The fans pouring outside the intimidating Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano long before the final whistle was just the sight Mexico wanted to see.