MEXICO CITY — Mexican coach Javier Aguirre showed his relief after his team's 2-1 victory over the United States on Wednesday in a critical World Cup qualifier.
"Today is a day to celebrate, drink a few tequilas, and then get back to work," Aguirre said after Miguel Sabah's goal in the 82nd minute gave Mexico the come-from-behind victory. "Everybody will go to bed tonight a bit more relaxed."
The victory — driven by a patient rally — eased the pressure on Mexico, which has been struggling in World Cup qualifying. The loss for the United States was almost expected. The United States has played 24 times in Mexico and lost 23. The only tie was a 0-0 draw in 1997.
The Mexicans entered the game fourth in CONCACAF qualifying, with only the top three teams automatically advancing. Mexico has nine points, two more than Honduras, which played later Wednesday at group leader Costa Rica (12).
The United States has 10 points and should stay on course to qualify if it wins its two remaining home games.
"I think it's a tight game and a fair score," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "It's tough loss to have so many guys work so hard and then give up a late goal. The feeling inside is one of great disappointment."
Added forward Landon Donovan: "This wasn't a live-or-die game for us. It was for them."
Sabah, who came in 3 minutes earlier, was all alone in front of the net when he took a feed from Efrain Juarez and beat goalkeeper Tim Howard. Defender Jay DeMerit made a key tackle on Juarez in the area, but the ball, instead of bounding out of bounds, went to Sabah, who put it away.
"The guy turned on it quickly and smashed it has hard as he could," Howard said of Sabah's goal.
The Americans nearly silenced the piercing drone of horns, drums and high-pitched screams in the ninth minute when Charlie Davies gave the United States a 1-0 lead on a world-class goal, the fourth of his career.
Donovan turned near midfield and threaded a pass through three Mexicans on the left side to Davies, who timed a perfect run and scored just inside the far post from 15 yards.
It was the first time the Americans led a match at Azteca Stadium, which opened 43 years ago.
"This is what you live for, especially as a striker scoring bigtime goals," Davies said.
The U.S. edge lasted only 10 minutes. In the 19th, Cuauhtemoc Blanco found Israel Castro, who equalized on a wicked 27-yard shot off underside of the crossbar and just over a leaping Howard's outstretched hand.
The goal turned up the volume again for 105,000 fans in sold-out Azteca, where almost every touch of the ball by a Mexican player was greeted by cheers of "Ole! Ole!"
Mexico won the Gold Cup last month using many of the same players. But the U.S. team the Mexicans routed 5-0 in the final was a lesser squad than the one on the field at Azteca.
"We did a good job starting the game well and scoring," Donovan said. "They made one play at the end that made the difference."
"It's hard to play here, man," said Donovan, referring to the 7,400-foot altitude. "It wears you out. It's just exhausting."
In the 74th minute, tempers flared. With Davies down on the field — apparently with cramps — several Mexican players tried to pull him off the ground. That angered Benny Feilhaber, who shoved several Mexicans as Howard came out of goal to separate the sides.
Three American defenders — Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra — drew yellow cards in a game that became increasingly physical. Onyewu carried a yellow into the match, meaning he will miss the next qualifier on Sept. 5 against El Salvador in Sandy, Utah.
The Americans play Sept. 9 at Trinidad and Tobago. They end qualifying on Oct 10 at Honduras and at home with Costa Rica on Oct. 14.
Mexico plays at Costa Rica on Sept. 5 and is home to Honduras on Sept. 9. Mexico will wrap up qualifying on Oct. 10 at home with El Salvador and at Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 14.