The United States confirmed their place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil as the first CONCACAF zone nation to do so, with an impressive 2-0 victory over Mexico on Tuesday night.
Jurgen Klinsmann's team had to bounce back from the disappointment of defeat to Costa Rica just four days earlier, and did so in style with their win in Columbus. The three points take the USMNT to 16 overall from their eight matches, eight points clear of Panama in fourth and thus enough to seal qualification for the World Cup with two matches to spare.
With the two sides having drawn 0-0 in the reverse fixture in March, it was always likely to be a tight affair this time around. It proved so during the first half, perhaps with Mexico just about edging matters before the U.S. took control after the break.
Eddie Johnson was the man who got the all-important first goal of the game just four minutes into the second half, powerfully heading home the opener from a corner on the right-hand side. Jose Corona was left punching thin air as the U.S. striker leaped ahead of him.
A nervy half-hour ensued for both sides before Landon Donovan sealed the win in the 78th minute after a fine run down the right channel by Norwegian-born midfielder Mikkel Diskerud. His low cross was flicked on by Clint Dempsey, with Donovan unmarked at the far post to smash home the United States' second goal of the night.
That was enough to seal the 2-0 victory—the USA's fifth in eight games during the Hexagonal—and late goals elsewhere meant it sent them to the top of the final group phase and through to the World Cup.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard was in fine form to make several saves to keep his 32nd clean sheet for the national side. He hailed his team's performance as one that would be "shown 15 or 20 years from now." Goalscorer Donovan revealed he couldn't imagine a better place than Brazil to feature at a World Cup, and Kyle Beckerman spoke of the "amazing feeling" he got from the victory.
While the players celebrated at the full-time whistle, the sense of achievement and expectation was no less in the stands, as captured by a fan's video in the lead-up to Johnson's vital headed goal.
The USMNT will now turn their attentions to the final two qualifying matches against Jamaica and Panama to come in mid-October.
Mexico, despite the defeat, will count themselves extremely lucky Wednesday morning. Two injury-time goals in the games between Jamaica vs. Costa Rica and Honduras vs. Panama have kept Mexico in touch of third place, which they trail by three points with two games to go.
Without those two late strikes, Mexico would have been five points behind third place with only six points to play for and almost certainly facing a real battle just to make fourth and an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.
Klinsmann and his men can rest easy in the knowledge that the hard work is already done, and they will be in Brazil next summer no matter what.