Mexico ekes past Honduras 1-0 to reach Gold Cup semifinals

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Thanks to an early goal from <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1097159/" data-ylk="slk:Rodolfo Pizarro">Rodolfo Pizarro</a> (15), Mexico beat Honduras to reach the Gold Cup semifinals. (Getty)
Thanks to an early goal from Rodolfo Pizarro (15), Mexico beat Honduras to reach the Gold Cup semifinals. (Getty)

Going into Thursday’s Gold Cup quarterfinal between Mexico and Honduras, the 1-0 victory by the defending champions might have felt inevitable.

After all, Mexico had not conceded a goal in this tournament since the 10th minute of its first game, which it would go on to win 3-1 over El Salvador. And Honduras, remarkably, had not scored yet in this off-year edition of the regional championship. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. The Catrachos were awarded three goals in the automatic 3-0 forfeit they were handed against French Guiana, which knowingly fielded an ineligible player. The actual game had finished 0-0.

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Thursday was a low-scoring affair, punctuated by very few true scoring chances. Yet the match outside of Phoenix, Ariz. that would send Mexico to the semifinal and keep it on track for a fourth CONCACAF title five editions of the Gold Cup, was gripping nonetheless.

From the start, an energetic and pacey tone was set, interspersed with a raft of hard fouls.

The only goal came early on. In just the fourth minute, Jesus Duenas hit a low ball to the far post. Elias Hernandez missed it but Rodolfo Pizarro bundled it just past the outstretched Luis Lopez to give El Tri the only goal they would need.

The rest of the first half was deadlocked, with only Jesus Molina getting a look for Mexico. He rammed his shot over though.

Early on in the second half, Mexico’s lovely counter set up Hernandez with a look, but he dallied on his finish and was closed down.

And from there, Honduras — which has won just one of its last 11 games on the field — threatened the tournament favorites with their swift counterattacks.

In the 50th minute, meanwhile, Romell Quioto smashed in a low free kick that troubled goalkeeper Jose Corona but didn’t beat him.

An inswing corner kick from Alexander Lopez to the near post caught Corona by surprise and he could only just recover to save.

In injury time, Alfredo Mejia volleyed a corner headed back to him just wide.

But Mexico hung on in this, the fourth of six competitive games for which its manager Juan Carlos Osorio was suspended. Curiously, El Tri looked as cohesive as they had all tournament in stretches, hogging the ball with positive possession. Yet a Honduran equalizer felt like something of a matter of time toward the end of the second half.

If anything, the sometimes-hapless team of the embattled Jorge Luis Pinto felt like it had just run out of time.

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With this strange victory under its belt, Mexico advances to Sunday’s semifinal with Jamaica in Dallas, after the Reggae Boyz were possibly a tad fortunate to beat Canada 2-1 earlier in the day. The sides have that in common then.

But all Mexico, Osorio and the tournament organizers will be most concerned with is that El Tri remain on pace for a final against the U.S.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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