By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PASADENA, California (Reuters) - Mexico won a pulsating CONCACAF Cup playoff match against the United States 3-2 in extra time at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium on Saturday to book their place in the next Confederations Cup.
It was their first victory against the U.S. since they clinched the 2011 Gold Cup final played at the same venue, and earned them bragging rights in what has become an intense soccer rivalry over the past two decades.
With a high-energy game tied 1-1 at half-time and also after full time, forward Oribe Peralta broke the deadlock in the 96th minute with a powerful right-footed shot off a low cross from defender Paul Aguilar.
Mexico appeared to have victory assured with their greater composure on the ball but 12 minutes later they were stunned when forward Bobby Wood equalized for the U.S. after latching on to an exquisite through ball from defender DeAndre Yedlin.
Aguilar scored the decisive goal in breathtaking fashion in the 118th minute with a thunderous volley after the ball had bounced clear of the U.S. goal following a free kick.
Mexico's win ended a six-match winless run against the U.S. featuring three losses and three draws and earned them a spot at the 2017 Confederations Cup, an eight-nation event to be held in Russia as a prelude to the 2018 World Cup.
A huge Mexican contingent at the Rose Bowl brought a festive atmosphere to an aging venue that hosted the 1994 World Cup final and green, white and red Mexican flags were continually waved above a sea of sombreros in a crowd of 93,000.
Forward Javier Hernandez was an early threat for the visitors with surging runs down the right and opened the scoring in the 10th minute after latching on to a cross from Peralta, who was given space by a superb backheel from Raul Jimenez.
However, the U.S drew level just five minutes later when defender Geoff Cameron struck with a diving header off a Michael Bradley free kick, sparking deafening roars from the U.S. fans watching from behind their home team's goal.
Tempers frayed in the 34th minute after Peralta, looking to slide in on a through ball, went in hard on U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and the Mexican was yellow carded after a goalmouth melee involving several players.
Mexico began the second half in attacking mode, earning three early corners before the ever-present Hernandez squandered a golden opportunity to score in the 59th minute when he failed to put away a low cross from Jimenez.
Roared on by chants of ‘USA USA USA’, the home team created a few chances of their own and the sellout crowd was treated to plenty of end-to end action before the match went into extra time.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)